I held off on watching La La Land (2016) until found myself alone and under the weather. Something told me engaging with this musical in a quiet, intimate way would help pick me up.
I can only develop real intimacy with movies and cities I visit when I’m alone. I think it has to do with not exchanging comments immediately with anyone else. One has more freedom to absorb and interpret the experience that way.
My feeling about La La Land proved right.
From friends’ impressions on the movie beforehand, I knew it wouldn’t blow me away. The awards season overhype also turned me off a bit. (Come on, nabbing FOURTEEN Oscar nominations? Seriously?)
But I knew it would be warm, fun, pretty light and remind me of movies I’d seen and enjoyed. Like Moulin Rouge! (2001), Once (2007), and Café Society (2016). There are also clear nods to older Hollywood movies, like the Astaire-Rogers classic Shall We Dance (1937). One might say that’s what the movie has mostly been marketed as (“re-imagining Hollywood classics.”)
I don’t think the director of La La Land, 32-year-old (!) Damien Chazelle, was trying to be particularly innovative here. He seemed to be trying, rather, to cobble together elements his own generation of dreamers, starstruck while doomed by recession and necessary menial jobs, would enjoy. Plus some old-timers too.
To me, it’s an ode both to (old) Hollywood and adults stuck in a kind of adolescence for refusing to settle for less than what they truly aspire for. It might make those who settled wish they hadn’t.
La La Land, as the title suggests, is set in L.A., in the present time. I imagine it’s a movie every Hollywood celebrity and wannabe can relate to. Its protagonists, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), are chasing butterflies as an actress and jazz pianist, respectively.
In the process, somehow they keep crossing paths, and so decide to see how it goes if they come together in between bouts of chasing their own dreams. (Together, but separate.) They’re talented people both unluckier and luckier than most. If you watch the movie, you’ll understand what I mean; I won’t give too much away.
The two protagonists are pretty, but not drop-dead gorgeous. It is a musical, so they do sing, and decently so – but their voices aren’t amazing, and they don’t sing too much.
To me, all this makes the couple, as well as the movie, highly relatable to us non-Hollywood people as well.
They only break out in song when it makes sense within the context of the movie. Like when you’re living a particularly exciting moment with someone and it makes you feel like you are, indeed, in a musical, and songs are playing in your head, and you’re walking on clouds.
And then John Legend comes along. (Just thought I’d mention that.)
The movie brought me back physical sensations from those rare perfect moments (usually in spring or summer) when random encounters and magic happen – like in a barbecue, or during dates in little spots that turn out to be special for some reason but which might be overlooked by others. It becomes a moment only two people in the world share, no matter what happens to them afterwards.
It also brought me back the heady sensation of when you’re having a shitty day but don’t care because you have a hot date later. Remember?
Mia and Sebastian act and sing out the “gliding into love,” and there’s quite a bit of cheese, besides their on-screen chemistry. But sugar and lemons mitigate the cheesy effect.
By “sugar” I mean the sweet things they do for each other, and the nearly unconditional, self-sacrificing support, and boost they give when the other is about to give up (or sell out). By “lemons” I mean the times they get short-changed, go through some unpleasantness, or simply can’t have it all. Reality is mostly “lemons,” even for Hollywood stars.
Will fame, or lack thereof, get in the way of their relationship? Will they look back (like most of us) and wonder what might have been? Or will they actually stick together and perhaps strike that elusive balance (which most of us can actually only dream of)?
It’s worth finding out for yourself. Kudos go to the touching and also uplifting soundtrack, the protagonists’ acting and dance moves (lots of talent and also extra training), and Gosling’s impressive piano skills. Yes, apparently he played every note in the movie. *Collective sigh from the world’s whole entire female population*