A Classic Bohemian Tale in Modern Hollywood
Here's to the ones who dream. Foolish, as they may seem.
Directed by Damien Chazelle (writer and director of Whiplash), La La Land presents classic bohemian ideals with an intentionally dramatic yet subtly stylized reach to appeal to the dreamers and hopeless romantic in us all.
Still, to be fair, I think it's important to note there's a different type of romantic in us all. I often take any hype with a grain of salt, because at the end of the day, my taste in film (like most movie goers) and major film critics.
What I did appreciate was that there was relatively little buildup leading to the release of the film; so little that even the trailers may have created some ambiguity and false expectations from the start.
Come to think of it, going into the theater I was never really clear on the overarching plotline and point of the story I was going in to see. All I knew was that it starred Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, both of which have an amazing chemistry that clearly vibes from their previous work together. Still, even though I was unclear what the story was about in the trailer (other than about an actress and musician fall in love and struggle in Los Angeles), I shamelessly admit I was charmed by the classic and energetic vibe that stood out from the rest of the silver screen flicks this holiday season.
To be clear straight out the gates here are some key aspects of the film that you may or may have figured from other articles leading up to its release:
La La Land is a musical.
If you're not up for plenty of songs and tunes about the love, ambition and the lines between the two, then this movie may not be for you. This movie has plenty of great pieces, including the main thematic song, City of Lights and The Audition (The Fools Who Dream) that brings classic jazz and show tune sounds of the 1930's and 40's back to the center stage.
The picture is incredibly yet subtly stylized.
In the same breath as Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge, the whole story and message of La La Land is an homage to the hopeless romantics and dreamers in us all. It's just not so much in your face. Although it's not so much in your face, La La Land tells the same message but with its very own modern twist: true and selfless love inspires us to dream and aspire without limits. The whole story carries the same bohemian thematic style in the setting of the modern 21st century. It lingers love, art, music, expressionism, and ambition because that's the whole purpose of the story. It's meant to be emotional. Still, emotional doesn't mean predictable (which leads to my next point).
It's not what's expected.
Although love is a major theme of the story, I wouldn't call La La Land a love story. Moreso, a cautionary tale of the various consequences we face if we live with fear or doubt. This is a dual protagonist story, so expect a slower pace as they need to take the time to develop the characters of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) through enough song end dance to get you invested in their stories. Luckily, the cast chemistry is so spot on, and the story starts off on a high, energetic note, that if you let yourself get into it, you'll end up finding yourself wanting more songs from Seb's.
If you're expecting the same formulaic romantic film that They Came Together satirically pokes fun at– then this movie may not be for you. True to the spirit of blues and jazz, La La Land also embraces the tragedies of love. As a fan of the classics myself, I couldn't have been more satisfied with the plotline, because it was real, believable and drove the main message home. As Amory Blaine from F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise would say, this story is for romantics, not sentimental folk. Still, although this movie is a tribute to Golden Age Hollywood, it doesn't follow the same conventions of most musicals from that time.
So long as you walk into the theater with no expectations but for a new story set with older thematic elements, then you can't be disappointed. Sure, there are elements in Sebastian and Mia's observatory date scene that attribute to Rebel Without a Cause, but the similarities stop there.
It's a charming treat for fans of the classics.
The character of Sebastian is a headstrong jazz traditionalist that brings incredibly valuable points to the importance of the classic jazz greats. His character proudly owns a stool once owned by Hoagy Carmichael himself in an era where (to his dismay) his tunes are mashed up with auto tune and hip hop beats to sell to a larger crowd. Mia's bedroom is covered in images of Ingrid Bergman, and her dreamy, doe-eyed persona draws parallels to characters played by said starlet. It's these little details that film, music and art geeks are sure to enjoy, regardless of the level of geek you may be.
In my perspective, the reason why La La Land was so successful as a story was because:
It achieves what seems virtually impossible the industry of blockbuster films, which is to provide a fresh story in a new way. Although as a geek at heart, I love my Marvel movies as much as the next typical movie goer, I still appreciated being challenged to reflect on my life on some deeper level, because at the end of the day, that's the whole point of art. The way I see it, there's no way better way to pay homage to art than to achieve its original purpose. La La Land holds an (albeit romantic) mirror to your face and challenges a particular kind of audience (the dreamy and philosophical) oo sit through a courage gut check on the things that matter most in life.
The messages in the story are incredibly meaningful. Although some of these lessons may be hard to swallow (i.e. true love is a choice, once must act selflessly for the sake of love, jazz is a dying art and philosophy) they are necessary to tell none the less. These thematic truths have long been ignored or at least broadly brushed over in most films that have come out for the past couple of years.
La La Land is fresh, classic, memorable, and incredibly charming. Even though it's not the classic boy-meets-girl story, it leaves you getting more out your movie ticket price if you do just as Sebastian implores jazz listeners: Listen to it, don't just hear it. It's not meant to be elevator music; it demands your attention.