On a rainy Saturday afternoon just over a week ago, I took my daughters to see the highly acclaimed film La La Land. They were a little reticent, and quite frankly so was I. What kind of title is La La Land?
I’d heard a lot of hype about La La Land since it sashayed across theatre screens, and wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea. Although I do like happy-go-lucky, it suits my temperament, and even though I love music, I’m not usually a great fan of musicals. Give me one or the other – a film or an album, a song. It’s tough to combine drama with music and pull it off in a classy, meaningful way.
La La Land does all this and more!
The dreamy, melancholy theme tune, the catchy songs, the romantic and life-affirming story line, the sheer relatability to the central characters and their situation, the acting, the dancing, not to mention its aura of heyday glitz, the bright colours, the panache of the cinematography and lavish, golden Hollywood style will ensure this film becomes a classic.
Behind the scenes featurette:
As I alluded to in the title – to writer and director Damien Chazelle, composer Justin Hurwitz, actors Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and the entire crew, thank you for reminding me that I’m a fool who dreams! It’s easy to lose sight of them when challenges pile up.
This film really got under my skin. I can’t get the songs and music out of my head (such irresistible, infectious ear worms), and the story told itself into my heart. Like it will into the heart of anyone who’s ever had a dream. It shone a spotlight onto all the raw moments and the beautiful ones that have made up my life thus far…
How did they manage to convey the heartbreak of shattered dreams, the hopefulness that dampens with every perceived failure, and yet so wonderfully capture the beauty of life, the fleeting encounters in those ordinary moments when all seems lost, yet can still change the course of our lives?
What a work of genius…
And who doesn’t need reminding about falling in love, about their dreams, and why they matter?
Mia and Sebastian
At the centre of this heart-warming and poignant tale are Mia and Sebastian. Mia Dolan is an aspiring actress, hoping to get her first part and struggling to hold down her thankless job as a barista in a coffee shop on the movie studio grounds, whilst attending every audition she can. She’s fresh faced, honest, talented and likeable, yet she just can’t seem to catch a break.
Someone in the Crowd:
Sebastian Wilder is a gifted and passionate jazz pianist, down on his luck, cynical about the world, hiding his pain under the surface of an overly ambivalent attitude towards his life.
“I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back. It’s a classic rope-a-dope.”
Two souls – lonely in the pursuit of their dreams under the sparkling sky of the city of stars – destined to meet. Their first inauspicious encounter happens in a bout of road rage on the rush hour freeway. From the moment of their first narky confrontation we see their separate days unfold – badly. It’s Christmas, but the joy of the season is not reaching either of them.
City of Stars:
Mia’s car is towed away that evening and she walks home after yet another shallow, hedonistic tinsel town party, only to pause outside an upmarket supper club – Lipton’s. There’s something about the sound of the piano emanating from within that draws her to step inside and listen. She instantly recognises the handsome man at the piano as the very same one who’d rudely beeped her as he passed her in her car that morning.
There’s something about his playing, she’s ready to make another friendlier introduction, but on his way out, he pushes past her without acknowledging her. What she doesn’t know is that he just got his head chewed off and was fired by the restaurant owner for straying from the set list of carols and playing his own jazz music.
At this point they’re an unlikely couple, but fate has another hand to play, this time at another party. They soon meet again: Mia as a guest, trying to shake off unwanted attentions of a bore, and Sebastian as a portable piano player in the two-bit band entertaining them. This time they have a conversation and overcome a little of the resentment each feels towards the other. After the party they walk down the hill and discover it’s actually a lovely night.
A Lovely Night:
Gradually they strike up a friendship and romance, including the dreamy, dazzling Planetarium scene.
Sebastian draws Mia into his world of jazz. He shows her the magic made by jazz musicians jamming in the Lighthouse Cafe together, sharing their emotions through their instruments, recreating the atmosphere that defined a whole era, indeed a whole city. But jazz is dying, and Sebastian wants to invigorate it and show the world how amazing it is. He wants to open his own jazz club. The trouble is, he doesn’t have the money and he’s picked a lousy name.
“I think you should call it Seb’s because no one will come to a place called Chicken on a Stick.”
Mia gives him the name and draws out his logo, but his ego won’t listen. She tells him of her aunt, the one who inspired her love of writing and drama. He suggests she writes her own material to perform, that way she’ll get taken more seriously. She names her one-woman play ‘Farewell Boulder City’, after her home town.
They fall deeply in love, both striving for themselves and encouraging each other in their dreams, but inevitably, as it usually does, life gets in their way. Sebastian is asked to play the piano part in a new, upcoming jazz group, the Messengers, who like to perform a fusion of traditional and modern jazz. He’s not sure at first, he doesn’t quite trust the singer Keith, but the money is good and they’ve already got a record deal, but they have to go on tour.
“How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.”
Mia is naturally concerned, she will miss him, but she tries to point out that it’s taking him away from his dream of opening him own more traditional club. Mia works on her play, and gets a chance to perform it at a small, local theatre. She’s full of excitement and anticipation on her opening night, but when she steps out on the stage there’s only a handful of people in the audience, and crucially, Sebastian isn’t one of them.
He’s busy at a photo shoot for the Messengers that he thought wasn’t until a week later, only to arrive at the theatre after a demoralised Mia has finished with acting and with him.
It’s a fact of life that many of us give up after overhearing an unkind remark, we assume that’s how everyone probably thinks, and decide we can’t do it. Mia is devastated, her play has flopped and worst of all, she has no support from her boyfriend on the night she needed it the most. She leaves Los Angeles and Sebastian to return home to her parents in Boulder City.
Her dream is in tatters and her relationship over. But the next morning a dazed Sebastian gets a phone call from an unknown person looking for Mia. It turns out to be a film producer, she had seen and loved Mia’s performance and wanted her to audition for a film set in Paris.
“I guess I’ll see you in the movies.”
Sebastian promptly jumps into his vintage, open top car and high tails it to Boulder City. All he knows is that Mia had told him she lived opposite the library. He parks and beeps, much to the chagrin of the neighbourhood and a surprised Mia.
This was a magical moment for me. Mia had retreated into her shell, all vestige of self-confidence seemingly gone, even after hearing the good news, there’s no way she’s going back to Hollywood just to be humiliated again. But Sebastian won’t take no for an answer. He makes her an offer, he’ll pick her up at 8 am and if she’s there he’ll take her to the audition, if she’s not then it’s over, she wasn’t really serious about her dream.
At this point in the third act of the film we see them living more in their essence than their identities, and the turning point in both their lives is inexorable.
Luckily Mia shows up, and her audition is brilliant. It made me cry. From that point on I couldn’t stop crying. I’d had a lump in my throat almost from the start.
Fools Who Dream:
I won’t reveal the ending; I don’t want to spoil it for you, other than to say it’s perfect.
I know it’s figments of imagination, but it re-affirmed to me that it’s okay to be fools who dream. And that’s what stories are meant to do, open us up to possibilities, let you live in someone else’s shoes for a while, because they’re not that different to yours. We all live vicariously through the written word and the big screen.
There has to be a fire burning inside, it’s the best way we bring light and warmth into other people’s lives.
“People love what other people are passionate about.”
What Could Have Been:
Even if you don’t like musicals or jazz, this film will make you see the beauty of your dreams, and for that reason alone you should go and see it. In my humble opinion, La La Land deserves all the awards and accolades that have been heaped on it to date, as well as the ones to come…