Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the film and hope to remain surprised, do not read further. Return (please) after you too have experienced this hit sensation … your feedback is encouraged.
It begins with a song and dance sequence. 150 dancers braving 110 degree Hollywood Heat on a sun-drenched concrete ramp between the 105 and 110 freeways, leaping and spinning from their traffic-jammed cars in joyful ecstacy. They don carefree smiles, abandoning their vehicles for a spin with strangers without a backward glance.
That’s how my morning begins … with a musical number. How about you? And in LA? Really? Bumper to bumper traffic, yes. A happy song and dance on a swelteringly hot day in a traffic jam, um, not so much.
But … the first hook was thrown. Something just different enough to be Intriguing. One Point for La La Land.
So the film begins with a carefree “opening number.” And, they have something in common, these drivers. Dreams and Hope.
Enter our two protagonists, driving the only two unaffected cars. These two characters behave like normal, annoyed, California drivers … there’s a pulsing honk and a middle finger flipped as the harried driver Sebastian (aka Ryan Gossling) revs by the distracted driver Mia (aka Emma Stone).
There’s the second hook, and we didn’t even see it coming. Fantasy and reality mixed artfully together to catch us off guard and draw us in. The Hollywood Hopeful and the Jazz Purist with a Dream. And they aren’t perfect heroes. They each have an edge to their personality. It’s a well-used plot in a theatrical setting, so, again I ask, why does this film have so many in its thrall?
Perphaps its the blend … Amidst the traditionally, popular classic Hollywood musical design, Damien Chazelle weaves a believable story with two genuine individuals. Note: This isn’t a commentary on acting or singing or who deserves the Oscar. It’s simply recognition that zany unrealism and two real people create a diverting film experience.
La La Land is all glittery and sparkle and fake. But Mia and Sebastian — their Hopes and Dreams and the frustrations they encounter — they are real!
Mia auditions and auditions (been there/done that/I can relate). She is thwarted, ignored, dismissed and declined. Seb dreams of opening a true jazz club. He has a specific location in mind but no cash flow — and an attitude. Being true to his art isn’t enough to pay the bills. Feeling like a failure in not only his eyes but Mia’s as well, he surrenders his Dream for a regular paycheck. He compromises. Meanwhile, Mia supports him as best she can but keeps fighting for her Dream to Act.
Many of us can relate to one or both of these “characters.” We put ourselves out there and get shown the door. We open our hearts and get rejected. We adjust our dreams and settle instead of continuing to fight toward our true aspirations. We reach for the stars, dancing among them for a time, but must descend back to earth when the sun rises.
In an elegant effort to be true to her self, Mia writes and stages her own play. It’s her dream moment and despite seemingly endless touring commitments, Seb promises to be there for her. Oh, we all know what’s bound to happen. We see it coming. Seb gets roped into (or … allows himself to be ropped into??) a photo shoot and is unable to reach the theatre on time. He misses her performance. He breaks Mia’s heart. She’s done. Done with La La Land and him. She leaves and goes home.
Seb stays. I mean for all intents and purposes, he made it. He got the “golden apple,” his name on the record and a place on tour before thousands of fans. But the sacrifice of his Dream, and the fact that he lost his love along the way, gives it a bitter taste. So when the call comes in with an opportunity for Mia, he gets excited! He sets their differences aside and brings her back. And, we’re all drawn in for Mia’s final audition.
Sebastian and Mia love each other. That much is clear. But, this is La La Land where idealized images, music and real life are blended together. We’ve seen that from the beginning. And even with a score underlying it, real life doesn’t always live up to the drama in the movies.
The ending of La La Land is much disputed. Some like it. Some get it. Some hate it. But as Mia says in her audition song, life is messy. When you jump in the Seine, sometimes you catch a cold. But, despite that, the question you have to ask yourself is … would you do it again?
La La Land delivers lovely imagery is grounded in truth. That’s the final hook. See, the story is timeless … it’s about giving and taking, winning and losing, sacrificing and growing. It’s about Dreaming, Hoping and Loving. And, in the end, sometimes Love isn’t strong enough. Sometimes the happily ever after you get isn’t the one you expect. But when the film ends, both seem happy with their lives. Mia became a film actress with a handsome husband and beautiful daughter while Seb opened that pure jazz bistro.
La La Land gives us Hope for our Dreams and Escape from the Dramas of the day and the world. It’s clever and pretty. But in the end, life in La La Land is not all glitter and sparkle. The film reminds us that we may have to adjust and make sacrifices. We might lose the people we love along the way. We are all fools but Life is messy.
And that closing dream song and dance sequence which highlights the Might Have Been Moment — the one people debate as they exit the theatre — that’s the final Hook.
“Here’s to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem. Here’s the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.”