In the new romantic musical comedy La La Land, Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress, and Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a musician aiming to open his own pure jazz club and perform as a pianist. The two struggling artists meet, share dreams, and seemingly fall in love in Los Angeles, the original “La la Land”, of course. The film’s title refers both to the city of Los Angeles, city of the angels, and to the idiom for being wrapped up in one’s own world.
The film opens with a song and dance scene that occurs on a busy California highway as Mia is driving to work to the Warner Brother’s lot where she works as a barista until her dream of making it big in acting comes true. Sebastian is also driving on that same road. The crowded highway sets the scene for a bit of road rage between Mia and Sebastian before the two part and go their separate ways. Mia has an audition after work and it does not pan out the way she hopes. In fact, it is a disaster. That night, her roommates hope to cheer her up by taking her to a party in Hollywood Hills. Things go okay until she finds that her car has been towed and she has to walk a long way back home.
The audience next sees Sebastian, ‘Seb’, encountering similar difficulty in chasing his own dream. While he performs at a restaurant, he gets carried away playing a passionate jazz rendition that goes completely off course from the simple, boring music that he was hired to play. Mia, passing by, hears the music and is mesmerized. The restaurant owner, however, is not pleased and Seb is subsequently fired.
As the story continues, Mia and Seb share their dreams with one another and find themselves falling for one another. It’s hard to say whether they are in love with each other or with each other’s passion for passion. It’s at least very heady infatuation.
Months pass. One night, after Seb overhears Mia on the telephone telling her mother that no, he hasn’t asked her to marry him yet because he’s still trying to establish himself, Seb decides to take a good paying gig playing contemporary music, (not his dream), just to make decent money and be responsible. Mia and Sebastian don’t see one another nearly as often with Seb working regularly and on the road. When they meet up after a long separation due to his work they argue as Mia accuses Seb of giving up on his dream. Seb soon after fails to show up to a one woman play Mia has worked very hard in creating and that night performing. Mia decides the play was a disaster as hardly anyone had showed up, not even Seb. She leaves back for her hometown in Nevada. Shortly after, Seb intercepts a phone call from a casting agent looking for Mia. The agent had been at Mia’s one woman show, was impressed with her performance, and wants her to audition for a large role in an upcoming movie. Seb drives to Nevada to tell Mia the news and convinces her to come back to audition. At one point, as they are discussing their careers and aspirations, but unsure of their future together, Mia says to Seb, “I will always love you.”
This is where the film takes an unusual course. The audience is transported to five years forward with a reality and a dream sequence alternate reality. The ending is realistic and definitely the right one, but may leave the audience, especially true romantics at heart, yearning for a different conclusion, and maybe even disappointed. I personally found it tragic in the literary sense of the word that things ended as they did because of the characters’ – particularly Mia’s – choices.
This musical is ambitious and has a vintage feel. The storyline is fresh and original, yet reminiscent of storylines of past, when old Hollywood was at its height. The music is catchy and of high quality.
Having several daughters trained in pre-professional dancing and voice, I noticed right away that the dancing in the movie was less than top notch. It’s not terrible; it’s just not excellent. In other words, there can be no honest comparison to anyone near the likes of Fred Astaire or Vera Ellen as in the older Hollywood films this one clearly sought to emulate.
I thought that casting might have been better served had no-name high quality singers/dancers (easy to find) been chosen for the leading roles over a well-known actress and actor. Neither the singing or dancing is outright bad, just that for the amazing music and production that the film is, it might have been better to invest in high quality performers taught to act rather than high quality actors taught to perform. In fairness, an argument could be made that the characters were ‘everymen’- common, relatable characters. Thus, average dancing and singing fit. The characters are authentic, sweet and sincere. The acting is good. So it’s easy to forgive less than perfect singing and dancing. I suppose you can decide when you see the film.
In regards to the storyline and particularly the ending: both characters are forced to confront what’s important in life to them. Ultimately, when choices arise, they are compelled to look at whether their dreams or whether the other person is most important. Both Mia and Sebastian demonstrate examples of selfishness in the film, but in my opinion, Mia is the one responsible for the demise of the relationship, choosing fame and fortune over her one true passionate love. Sebastian demonstrated an unselfish, willingness to change plans to be with Mia when he took a higher paying job so that he would be able to support her. When Mia’s big opportunity came, she ran full speed ahead…without Seb. I know I’d have made a different choice.
Still, the movie brings a lot for an audience to think about- for example, how some people in our lives (even great loves of our lives), may not necessarily be meant to be long term partners or spouses, but friends and encouragements for a season or two, perhaps even muses for our greatest creations.
La La Land is a film about hopes, struggles and yearning for human connection, and encouragement and support. It raises more questions than it answers but the film gives much food for thought about life, love, priorities and the meaning –and price—of dreams.
Note: LaLa Land received critical acclaim upon its release, and was regarded as one of the best films of 2016. Critics praised the screenplay and direction, as well as Gosling and Stone’s performances, and the musical score. At the 89th Academy Awards, the film received a recory tying 14 nominations (equaling 1997’s Titanic and 1950’s All About Eve) (From Wikipedia)
Theresa Thomas is a stay-at-home mother of nine and the wife of David. She writes for Integrated Catholic Life , is a columnist at Today’s Catholic News, and her second book Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families is available from Scepter Publishers. You can write to Theresa at TheresaThomasEverydayCatholic@gmail.com