I watched La La Land at the cinema last Friday and I loved it. I’m going to talk about some of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much.
La La Land felt like an old Hollywood movie, a new Hollywood movie and something else all at the same time. It had the big sets, bright colours and dance sequences of a classic musical. It had two of today’s biggest stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, in a romantic film. Yet it still felt like nothing I’d ever seen before.
I loved the blurred boundaries between fantasy and reality that enabled the everyday to seem magical.We saw the desperation of an actress and musician struggling to live their dreams in Los Angeles, contrasted to the dance sequence they perform on the streets. Mia, played by Stone, doesn’t want to go on a night out, but her friends entice her to go with Hollywood glamour and primary coloured dresses, and they sing all the way, only for the night out to disappoint her, and to find her car has been towed and her phone is dead. It is equally relatable and magical: I have been on bad nights out, my phone has died when I needed it most, but I’ve never been whisked off into the night by a musical number. The fact that the fantasy entertained these everyday scenarios heightened the intensity of the escapism. I didn’t just feel like I was in another world, I experienced the journey to the other world.
A lot has been said about how Gosling and Stone don’t have the best singing voices, but this allows the musical numbers to feel like a part of ordinary life. The Los Angeles presented to us in La La Land through Mia and Sebastian is a world of Hollywood and Jazz. The score of jazz music throughout the movie feels organic to the world building of the film. In La La Land, a musical number in a realistic setting also feels organic due to the pervasiveness of Hollywood. The blurring between fantasy and reality in La La Land may not sit well with certain people as they gravitate more to escapism or realism. However, personally my favourite stories are those in which the real world becomes magical, so I was particularly taken in.
Whilst the plot could ultimately be summed up as a romance between an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist, the way the plot intertwines with the whole tone of the film elevates the story. Jazz and Hollywood unite as Mia and Sebastian do, and separate when Mia and Sebastian do. La La Land isn’t a musical with songs dotted around. The score fits in every scene, without feeling distracting.
I felt that the motivations of the two main characters were authentic. They struggled with the dilemma faced by many artists of loyalty to one’s craft and the need to make a living. Their disagreements as a couple feel organic and logical. You don’t feel they start a relationship or quarrel because it is a romantic film and that’s what happens, but because the characters are acting on their wants and desires. They don’t suddenly decide to dislike each other to cause conflict in the story, but because their desires and developments in their careers don’t match up.
La La Land presents a land of intense joy and misfortune. We see the world through jump cuts and montages that make life easy; musical numbers and colours that make life brighter; and songs and dances that make meeting someone feel romantic. We also see how humans don’t co-ordinate dance moves and bump into each other when Mia’s shirt is covered in coffee before her audition. We see Sebastian play a new song on the piano and the audience don’t join in with the song, but he is fired for not doing his job. We see a surprise romantic dinner fall apart because schedules and priorities don’t line up. La La Land doesn’t choose between a ‘life is terrible’ and a ‘life is fantastic’ perspective, just as it doesn’t choose between fantasy and reality.
The overarching reason I loved La La Land is that the music, the camerawork, the editing, the costumes – basically everything that went into making the film – reflected the plot and the journey of the characters. La La Land can’t decide whether to present a serious or aspirational view of Los Angeles, just as Mia and Sebastian wrangle with whether to make serious or aspirational decisions about their careers. Mia and Sebastian dance above the city skyline to show they are each a talent worth focussing on, but they exist in a city of millions with the same dreams. La La Land could have been a story of any two people in the musical number in LA traffic, ‘Another Day Of Sun’, at the beginning of the film. The story succeeds in that it is ultimately a tale about Los Angeles, but it is also a story about all our lives. We all dance in planetariums, acting as the Hollywood star in our own life, amongst millions of other stars.
Those are my thoughts on La La Land as I try to figure out what it is about it that I enjoyed so much. I definitely think it needs a rewatch so I can delve into it even more.