While I may be a few months late to the party, I couldn’t let writing about La La Land pass me by. I didn’t see it until recently, with my friend Jayne at our local cinema. But since then, I have seen it a further three times, and have had the soundtrack perpetually on repeat: in my ears, in my mind and through my speakers since. I feel Spotify may include me in one of their next personal marketing campaigns, referencing my most recently played as troublesome, or something like that.
What can I say? After the death of Debbie Reynolds, I think La La Land is exactly what my old soul needed.
Review: La La Land
I’ve long been a fan of the on screen chemistry and general acting dynamic shared between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, so I admit that I was genuinely desperate to see the movie before I even really knew what it was about – and I’m quite happy to say that in spite of watching the BAFTAs and speaking to many people who have seen the movie, I managed to avoid all details about the plot until I saw it for the first time.
In short, La La Land fills my heart with a plethora of different emotions, but ultimately, I just think it’s a bloody lovely film.
The plot, mis-en-scene, plot and cinematography offer a distinct juxtaposition between a classic Hollywood narrative and what modern audiences have come to expect from a romantic movie. This is all wonderfully offset against some classic jazz themes as well as the more traditional musical aspect, expected in a musical.
Admittedly, the overt musical theme did put me off slightly, and I found myself watching the opening few moments of the movie thinking, ‘oh no, I’m not going to like this at all.’ but honestly, once Mia stumbled into the smokescreen of the crowded restaurant, helplessly chasing the dulcet tones of soulful, heart-wrenchingly passionate piano jazz, I regained my composure, my focus and my resolve that La La Land was going to be enjoyable for me.
Naturally, I couldn’t escape the Singin’ in the Rain overtures…
These are particularly prominent in the scenes in which Mia and Sebastian are beginning to explore the potential in their relationship; starting from the scene where they bump into each other at the party – the what a waste of a lovely night song features a lovely Ryan Gosling swing around a lamppost that could have been performed by Gene Kelly himself. In fact, that whole song, wonderfully tap danced along to against the lilac wine backdrop of LA in the evening could have literally been plucked from the Singin’ in the Rain scene in which Gene Kelly serenades Debbie Reynolds on the movie set – and if you were paying really close attention, the scene in which they stand in front of the movie set and Mia exhales ‘I just love it’ before walking off scene is almost a carbon copy of the aforementioned musical scene. Not to mention the epilogue scene in which they find themselves dancing through their relationship; moments of which could have been plucked out of Gene Kelly’s somewhat introspective dance solo in the middle of Singin’ in the Rain.
… But I also loved the other classic Hollywood movie scene references throughout out too.
Did anyone notice the Grease references? The Someone in the Crowd song from the movie smacks of the bedroom scene in the 1970s classic, Grease. From lolling about on the bed, drinking wine and offering suggestions that our leading lady is akin to Sandra Dee, this song is Mia’s Look at me I’m Sandra Dee; except instead of lousy with virginity, our leading lady is lousy with a lack of acting jobs. Within that same song, there are also references to West Side Story and Sweet Charity.
Shall we Dance was referenced in the scene where Mia and Sebastian sit on a park bench, while Mia puts on her dancing shoes and West Side Story is referenced again during Ryan Gosling’s first City of Stars solo on the pier.
Baz Lurhman’s Moulin Rouge makes an appearance during the wonderfully art nouveau scene on Mia and Sebastian’s date at the observatory, adding a wonderful sense of magic and whimsy to the movie that only intensifies the romance, in my opinion.
Audrey Hepburn’s Funny Face was given some extremely blatant overtures in the form of Mia holding balloons against a backdrop of the Arc De Triomphe, while another Gene Kelly classic, An American in Paris is referenced in the same scene, alongside La Balon Rouge. On the Town featuring both Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly is referenced in the same scene, alongside the classic Broadway Melody.
In short, La La Land exemplified old Hollywood magic, but of course, all good things must come to an end.
By now, the plot should be relatively well known: two aspiring artists meet; they’re the classic starry-eyed dreamers in this boy-meets-girl romantic classic. She’s a perky, relentlessly optimistic aspiring actress, while he is shrouded in melancholy as the down and out aspiring jazz club owner.
Naturally, as these movies often do, they meet one another and instantly dislike each other. From then, they spend months bumping into each other, their mutual dislike, of course, leading the way for inevitable flirtation and of course, love. It’s an optimistic baseline, with an unfortunate dose of realism thrown in to stop our hearts beating to the rhythmic sounds of romance and jazz; bringing us back down to earth with a woeful thud.
Mia and Sebastian’s romance is wonderfully pure; it is captivating and gives La La Land the soul that only a Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone collaboration could provide, which is perhaps why the movie’s inevitable, melancholy climax leaves such a sour taste in my mouth.
By sour, of course, I mean the saltiness of my own tears and sadness. Admittedly, I threw myself into La La Land the way any other doe eyed, classic movie goer would. The film, while appearing to be the ultimate escapist movie, proffering scenes of wonderful romance and musical attributes offers anything but escapism… It hurts. It packs punches that I never expected from a movie with such a whimsical and adorable title – Emma Stone wore a lot of yellow, the movie’s posters are all purple… I expected to leave the cinema floating on a cloud.
Instead, I left the cinema holding back my tears; trying not to cry in front of my friend. I waited until I got home and unleashed a sorrow that I could never have expected from a film that takes so much inspiration from the golden age of Hollywood. Where these predecessors paired their lovers off almost perfectly, La La Land leaves us with the thought of what might have been, as our leading lady, five years on from her big audition, leaves Seb’s with her husband – not Ryan Gosling’s character – as he tickles his piano’s ivories, replaying what might have been to the tune of their relationship’s theme.
Of course, this is testament to the fact that in spite of the pair’s relationship, that they weren’t exactly made for each other. The film makes it clear that for the relationship to succeed, one of our leading characters must fail – something that the movie’s epilogue uncovers, as we see Sebastian dutifully following Mia in pursuit of her own dream… which only adds to the somewhat cruel melancholy the film’s climax thrusts upon its audience.
I loved La La Land so much. There are no two ways around it. While the film did come under some criticism for notes falling flat and dance steps being somewhat tentative, to me that seems so much more the point. These characters are struggling to find their way, not only in the world, but within the comfort of their dreams and their relationship almost encapsulates that not even sheer force of will, or happiness, or indeed, perfection and dreams can guarantee a happy ending. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to, and for those of you who have, I would love to hear your thoughts.
I’m hoping this is the start of something wonderful and new for Hollywood. In times where our realities seem somewhat difficult to consider without reaching for the gin, films that can offer a sense of whimsy and joy can be a comfort. This is perhaps, of course, why the golden age of Hollywood remains golden; watching Fred and Ginger waltz around a dance floor during the grips of the Great Depression had to be a lot better than facing reality, much in the same way watching Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone fall in love and inexpertly tap dance their way around LA made me forget Article 50 and yet more early morning tweeting from the alleged leader of the free world. Here’s to the fools who dream, hmm?