(May contain minor spoilers)
It’s hard having a romantic heart. Take it from me. Believing in our hopes and dreams in the face of all reality. Getting emotional not just for ourselves, but sometimes for people we hardly know as they find bliss, or find heartbreak. We romantics aren’t stupid though, we know that things don’t always work out the way we dreamed and our hearts break a little bit wider than mere mortals, but with every heartbreak we leap back into the void again, knowing that what may be impossible, is in fact likely, if we only hold that fire in our stubborn hearts for just a little while longer.
La La Land is for romantic hearts and it just might be the perfect movie. Look I know we have some realists in the audience here. Hi. You will like this movie too, don’t get me wrong, it is a truly wonderful film experience. The kind of film that will be referred to for years after its gone from the headlines and hype. So yes, you will enjoy it, but as you will see, the film is really made to hit home, for the romantics among us. The poor bastards.
This is a movie about Hollywood, the mythic Hollywood, the place where dreams are born. La La Land tells its story through two people there to follow their dreams through the dead end jobs, the indignities of their chosen profession with the inherent blistering rejection and dashed dreams. Damien Chazelle and in particular cinematographer Linus Sandgren use light and color to create a dreamy almost pastel canvas upon which to paint the story with music and the charm of our two characters as they move about each with their own dreams and goals promised them by the city of angels.
This is also a movie that loves movies, especially Casablanca and why not? Humphrey Bogart was one of the great romantics in cinema even beyond his masculine stoicism, his chiseled face could portray heartbreak like few other actors, especially in Casablanca.
Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress and as it turns out, and aspiring writer who lives with 3 other actresses in the perfect apartment. Her bedroom has a full size portrait of Ingrid Bergman painted on the wall. When she is not busy auditioning she is a barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot. The shop happens to be directly across from the building where Rick and Ilsa were filmed looking out the window.
Sebastian(Ryan Gosling) is a jazz fan. No, you don’t understand me, he’s a JAZZ fan. A purist who owns a piano stool that once belonged to Hoagy Carmichael and wants to open a jazz club. A REAL jazz club. Sebastian knows that like hockey, jazz is much better when seen live and in person. Sebastian is a pianist who dutifully learns his chops by painstakingly emulating old Columbia sides phrase by glorious phrase.
Like all films of this ilk, it starts with a “meet cute”, in bumper to bumper traffic where Mia first lays eye on Sebastian. His first communication to her, a horn. Her first communication to him, the finger. Later on she sees him playing piano at some lounge lizard bar. He’s been told to play the “playlist” and this being wintertime, the “playlist” is one jaunty Christmas song after another. No space man stuff! When he follows his muse and plays something HE wants to play, he is fired (by JK Simmons cornering the Jazz asshole market) whereupon he snubs Mia as she comes over to talk to him as he storms out the door.
They finally officially meet at a party where Sebastian is playing keyboards in a horrifyingly but delightfully cheesy 80’s cover band playing “Take On Me”. Mia walks up and requests “I Ran” to be spiteful.
Point of order here, back in 1982 Flock of Seagulls was pretty cutting edge stuff so you hipster kids making fun of us old new wave warriors please check yourself. I was there in the 80’s and I wont have you whippersnappers maligning it.
The playful verbal sparring as they dodge and parry themselves around their attraction for one another evolves into one of the most charming numbers of the film. “(What a waste of) A Lovely Night” is a feisty song in the dance of attraction where the two sing and dance to a beautiful night, a night wasted because they are with each other. It’s delivered in a far more flirtatious and playful way than my ragged prose can convey. When you see it, you’ll get it.
And there’s not a spark in sight
What a waste of a lovely night
In the second act, as reality sets in on our lovers, Chazelle’s vision and Sandgren’s photography take us to a more starkly realistic vista more appropriate for coming back down to earth. We are now taken from mythic Hollywood to the reality of Los Angeles and the director throws a curve at us, almost a mid-production genre shift as things get real for Sebastian and Mia . The basic question confronted is when fate calls your bluff, how do you handle the cost of realizing your dreams?
Following ones dreams can be a chore, it’s a lot of work. It’s exhausting following those dreams when nobody but you believes in any meaningful way it’s attainable. Anyone who has pursues anything risky, be it the arts or anything else will tell you, the first thing someone will say to “help” you is: “are you sure you want to do this?” Sebastian knows this. Mia knows this especially in what I feel is the signature song of the film, “Audition”
Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make
The film totally sticks it’s landing. I won’t give any of it away, but it is cinema magic from the moment it starts as the music returns with an ending straight out of Rick’s American Café.
La La Land is a classic musical for modern times and it may just be the best film you will see all year. Stone and Gosling have a proven track record of chemistry on screen. Neither are the worlds best singer, although Stone wins if it’s a two person race. Neither are the world’s best dancer. But if you have been in a musical, even in high school, you know the trick is pulling it off and they do in spades. Emma Stone especially becomes in this film what her character dreams of being, a movie star worthy of the classics.
Romantics know, even if we won’t admit it, that sometimes our dreams come with price tags, the question is what are you willing to pay to reach for the stars?
So here’s looking at you, kid.