This romance musical is a nostalgic homage to Hollywood’s golden era where the likes of Gene Kelly and Humphrey Bogart expressed their truest feelings to Debbie Reynolds and Ingrid Bergman through the art of song and dance. Whiplash fame, Damien Chazelle, recreates the glamour of old Hollywood with his modern envisioning of two people falling in love as they pursue their dreams in Tinseltown. The film poses the age-old question almost all dreamers have to face in their lifetime – love or career? Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play the hopelessly in love couple with dreams and passions that propel them into the films namesake. The ‘La La Land’ that we find ourselves stuck in, where aspiration and ambition is key, but alas is not truly achievable unless you get your head outta the clouds? Well, Chazelle says otherwise.
Stone plays Mia, an on-studio barista who watches actors play out their aspirations day by day while she only experiences rejection and ridicule, and Gosling is Sebastian, the Jazz purist with the dream of opening his own club to keep the momentum alive, but is striking out against the raging 21st century “Jazz” the cool kids are listening to. They are both envisioning the good and bad side to living in the clouds – the romanticism of their Hollywood-esque relationship against the destruction they face if they don’t strive to fulfil their dreams. La La Land is all about making dreams a reality, and along the way reminding all that you cannot live in a fantasy.
The film opens as most musicals do, a peppy dance number to put a smile on everyone’s face and transport us to the traditional musical world of film we adore. As the film goes on, we have parallels to past musicals, like Mia and Sebastian’s tap number, ‘A Lovely Night’ resembles Shall We Dance’s ‘Lets Call the Whole Thing off’, Sebastian and street lamp as with Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, the dance against the starry background in the ‘Epilogue’ is reminiscent of Broadway Melody of 1940’s ‘Begin the Beguine and many others. It is Chazelle’s way of paying homage to what The Hollywood Reporter called an “extinct genre” – he put life back into a style of music most people only use, as Mia said, as background or elevator music. La La Land, and Whiplash have both reignited the power of musical styles that had fallen behind the new and contemporary avenues. To even counteract his own cultural message, Chazelle has made a contemporary version of something beloved by many, yet within the film he has written a character hopeful for the old age of Jazz to return and find its place in this progressive world of music. So what are we meant to take from this choice? Traditionalism is the way to go, or scrap the old age and build something fresh and original. You can do both. Just look at how it ends – some dreams are fulfilled, some are not, but that’s just it, a happy ending isn’t inevitable, but it is possible.
Aside from the music of the film, the love story is another attribute taking center stage. Mia and Sebastian fall in love, as one would dream, slowly, softly and beautifully. Their first meeting was the result of arrogance overtaking the magic, but as time went on, and after a spectacular evening spent looking onto the LA skyline, they became drawn to one another, and then magic took over the journey of their characters’ relationship. Beautifully crafted and filmed scenes at the Griffith Observatory and The Lighthouse Café aided in the development of their romance and the insight into their characters as dreamers in the truest form. Chazelle utilised the montage tool cleverly to show their fleeting journeys as these dreamer and lovers – the first was their initial dating, the second was their pursuit of their dreams while head over heels, and the third was the slow and sad unravelling of the bubble they had made for themselves where they have no time for one another or feel the greatest distance yet from their aspirations. And along this journey we the audiences take with them, we hear and remember the gut-wrenchingly beautiful theme song to their love in various tempo and the individually critically acclaimed song ‘City of Stars.’
That is what the film, and possible theatre production since its commercial and critical success, teaches all the dreamers out there, the road will not be perfect or without struggle. There are potholes for a reason and it’s the truest test of your dream for you to overcome it all the way to fulfilment. Sebastian forces the downcast Mia to remember that, he urges her to not give up and she doesn’t. What happens next will be a massive spoiler on my part, so watch the movie, it is definitely worth it. The ‘magic of the movies’ vibe La La Land presents to its viewers acts as that much-needed escapism from ones daily life, but it also sends the message to those same people that why escape for one day, when you can make whatever dream you have a reality, whether it is in the arts like Mia and Sebastian or something vastly different. A dream is a dream, and only the person dreaming can fulfil it.