It took me a minute to hop on the La La Land bandwagon, and I don’t have anything to blame for that except my shameless laziness. These new, unique movies with lots of hype around them terrify me, if I’m being completely honest. I don’t know what exactly it is that becomes so intimidating about these Oscar winners but it’s enough to keep me away from them.
When I watched La La Land, I was almost thankful that I’d waited this long to watch it, because now I can think about it alone and write this without having a lot of overwhelming opinions being thrown at me from everywhere. It’s common knowledge that everything that gets a lot of love also gets a lot of hate from the “other side” and there was plenty of that with this movie. While the impeccable cinematography and music received unanimous love from film geeks everywhere, there was also criticism about casting Ryan Gosling as the troubled genius pianist trying to save jazz, considering that jazz comes from black Americans and is a deeply rooted part of black history.
But I’m not here to discuss the racial aspect of this film. I’m here to talk about how this film simultaneously ended up being one of the most satisfying and bittersweet experiences for me. Let’s start with the story.
La La Land is the story of a struggling actress and a struggling jazz musician whose dream is to open his own jazz club. The film follows these two people in a PoV format, often going over the same sequences from both their perspectives. The musical numbers drive this film and add to it in every sense. The opening sequence in the middle of LA traffic almost narrates the themes of this story, preparing you for what the film is about (Another Day of Sun), and is one of my favourite songs from the movie.
Shot in a CinemaScope style, this film is a tribute to LA- the land of dreamers, and takes from classic Hollywood movies like Singin’ In The Rain. It was enough to inspire me to explore old Hollywood movies- something I hope to do soon. The choreography was stellar and extremely expressive; very rarely have I felt so strongly about watching song and dance. The elements of surrealism made this film for me, because the sharp surreal sequences balanced out the harshness of rejection and failure that both characters face throughout the movie.
I was quite let down by the body of the plot. It didn’t seem new and I had a constant feeling of deja vu while watching it. But I do commend Damien Chazelle for taking up such a widely explored plot point and putting it forward in such a fresh way.
The film’s climax hasn’t gotten nearly enough praise, in my opinion. I’ve never seen such a real experience be portrayed in such a dreamy, comforting way. We’ve all been in love, and we’ve all had that one love that leaves us changed and we just know- we’ll always love them. The characters in the movie go through the same thing.
But life brings them to a point of no return, and they both know they can’t repair their relationship and be the same two people who were in love. And so they go their separate ways and go on to become successful people in their respective fields. I think Chazelle knew that a mundane ending like that would be dissatisfactory, so he gave his audience an epic montage of what Mia and Sebastian’s lives would have been like if everything had worked out perfectly in their relationship. And just as you get lost in the perfect dreaminess of the what ifs, he snaps you back to earth because real life is cruel and sometimes, you don’t end up with the person who would ideally be perfect for you.
Filmmakers strive to make their audiences feel with their cinema. Films are made to make you one with the characters and experience what the characters feel. All a filmmaker can hope to do is to evoke true, raw emotion as a result of his creation. For me personally, very few films have been able to do that. And this film was one of them. The feeling of bittersweet longing I was left with as I saw Mia and Sebastian share a smile before going their separate ways once more is a feeling I will never forget, because this was the first time a work of fiction made me feel it in its truest form.