“La La Land” Review

SPOILER ALERT!

Why are men so stupid? La La Land offers a very simple and solemn answer to this perennial question: We value success over love. We can have our dreams or our sweethearts but not both, and while we make sacrifices that get us to the top, we are alone once we get there.

La La Land follows two artists struggling to make it in Hollywood. Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a passionate jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own club; and Emma Stone plays Mia, who has dreamt of being an actress ever since she was a little girl. As the opening song informs the audience, when life pushes us down, we have to get up “off the ground.” Sebastian is forced to play Christmas carols and 80s hits and Mia is humiliated at one audition after another. Their love is born out of their mutual hardships and the passion they share towards achieving their dreams.

La La Land successfully recreates old fashioned Hollywood musicals, with catchy songs and luscious cinematography. Each scene is alive with rich red tones and somber dark hues to set the mood for Mia and Sebastian, respectively. Sebastian and Mia are developed just enough that we see ourselves as the bruiting artist, unwilling to compromise with even himself for the sake of his music, and Mia as the hopeful starlet astride the horrible brink between despair and fame. The characters’ struggles are all very much our own, as we all have dreams that seem crazy and for which we are willingly to sacrifice everything. But do we really have to sacrifice the love of the one person who encourages us to keep pushing on towards the goal?

If you remember Titanic, it was obvious that this film would not end well. This boat is going to sink, and it will drown the star-crossed lovers and everything else in its wake. But La La Land keeps you hoping throughout the film that true love will ultimately conquer all.

But, the reality is Sebastian and Mia could never be together.  Once their “boat” reaches the shore, once they get their breaks, once they find fame, no longer can they be together. The climb unites them, and the summit divides them. This is emphasized all the more by the lack of music as the film reaches its sad climax. Music reflects the hope and possibility of having all at once one’s love and one’s dreams, and as this grows less and less possible, the songs grow less frequent until they all but disappear from the movie.

In the film’s final musical act, we are taken back through all the things Sebastian should have done for Mia. Here, the music reflects the hope of what could have been but cannot be. These are the moments Sebastian acted particularly stupid, when he picked his career over her and how different his life would have been if he had chosen otherwise. Rather than brushing off the girl who took interest in a sad piano player, he kisses her. He abandons a self-indulgent photoshoot to attend and applaud Mia’s one-act play. He goes with Mia to Paris for her big break, sacrificing his own dream for the promise of a life with her instead. But, as the backdrops give way to the bold, brush strokes of an Impressionist painting, we know that this isn’t really happening. This is all a dream, and the characters we’ve rooted for will not live happily ever after with each other. They are happy and successful, but that success came at a price. Sebastian’s poignant head nod in the film’s final frame signals that he has accepted the sad truth before the audience does. We can have success or true love but not both, and we have to live with the consequences. Here’s looking at you kid.

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One thought on ““La La Land” Review

  1. This was a great review. I loved how you pointed out that sometimes we have to sacrifice for the sake of relationships. A supportive spouse goes farther in providing joy and satisfaction over time than fame and fortune ever could.

    Toby and I went last night and really liked it. I agree with Rachel that it has some similarities to “Casablanca,” as well as “Castaway”, which both show the end of a relationship because of poor timing, I also like “It’s a Wonderful Life” in that lives would have been so different if just one different choice had been made.

    I also thought of how coffee is used in the movie: the young celebrity being offered free coffee at the beginning, coffee being spilled on Mia just before an audition, coffee in the car as Sebastian is about to drive her back to LA for the audition that ends up changing her life, and the coffee at the end when she herself is offered free coffee and she turns it down also and leaves a tip for the barista. It all goes back to the barista: working at a menial job to pay the bills while pursuing her dream.

    Finally, I thought of the song, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” made famous in 1968 by Dionne Warwick, which is about a girl going home after failing to make it in LA:

    “LA is a great big freeway
    Put a hundred down and buy a car
    In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star.
    Weeks turn into years; how quick they pass
    And all the stars that never were
    Are parking cars and pumping gas.”

    Like

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