Directed and written by: Damien Chazelle
Edited by: Tom Cross
Cinematographer: Linus Sandgren
Composed by: Justin Hurwitz
Let’s address the elephant in the room – I did not enjoy La La Land. The likability I have for it now resounds in a few factors; the first, that it’s one of my sister’s films so it reminds me of her and it makes her happy so naturally, it makes me happy. Second, I cannot deny how beautiful the film is. Third, I love the soundtrack.
So, why didn’t I enjoy it? Among all of these factors, it should have been perfect – but it wasn’t and that is what frustrates me the most about this film. If you’ve been reading my essays for a while then you’ll know that one of the things I love to talk about most is characters arcs, goals and motivations. For me, a film cannot have much emotional impact with me if I am not rooting for the characters to achieve their goal.
La La Land is an American romantic musical which follows an aspiring actress, Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) as she falls in love with beaten down jazz pianist, Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling). While the pair search for their dreams to come true, they begin to realise that they can’t have their relationship and the dream career that they want, too.
Their goals are instantly provided to the audience which is the first box ticked off for the makings of a solid plot. The problem I find lies in the fact that I didn’t find myself rooting for Mia in the slightest and therefore, I didn’t root for their relationship. In the early scenes of the film, we are shown Mia auditioning for parts that she clearly isn’t happy in – but we are also shown that she isn’t the best actress. Whether that’s the part that she’s going for or the people she’s auditioning for, that is the point that comes across to the audience. She isn’t Oscar-worthy, she just blends in.
Which is juxtaposed to Sebastian, who is clearly a very talented pianist from the moment we lay eyes on him. We as an audience now know what his goal is – to open his restaurant and bring jazz back to life but we also know that he is more than capable of doing it, something which is a grey area to Mia’s dream.
When the pair begin to fall in love, they encounter another problem. Sebastian runs into old friend, Keith (John Legend), who suggests that they start a jazz fusion band. He refuses but then overhears Mia talking to her mother, implying that Sebastian isn’t able to provide for them financially like he should be able to. Prompted by this, he accepts Keith’s offer – even though it isn’t his dream, he can see that it is a stepping stone towards it. Mia, however, cannot.
There are certainly questionable relationships throughout romantic films. Take The Notebook for instance; Rachel McAdams’ character frequently hits Gosling’s and they make consistent arguing out to be something that is romantic in a relationship because they were ‘crazy about each other’. The most toxic trait in La La Land is how Mia flip-flops between supporting Sebastian’s dream while being completely selfish in her own. Relationships are about balance, supporting one another’s dreams even if it has some impact on your relationship such as not being able to spend as much time together.
If Mia’s career were to take off, she would be on set all the time similar to how Sebastian is on tour with his band. Even though she unknowingly was the catalyst for him deciding to accept Keith’s deal, she is unsupportive from the start and doesn’t seem to understand how the world works. Yes, he isn’t doing what he wants but he is still managing to play music for money and it is a stepping stone towards what he wants. Mia wants everything handed to her on a plate and wants Sebastian to follow along with her – and that is what ends up happening at the end of the film. Mia gets what she wants (a film literally focused on her) and finds someone who is nondescript and doesn’t have much personality of his own.
In the end, we’re supposed to feel sad that the pair don’t end up together but I was glad that both of them managed to escape from one another. Sebastian was the more likeable but was also rather pretentious. So, back to the title – what would have made La La Land better for me?
A more cathartic end for me would have been if Mia decided that acting wasn’t for her at all and decided to pursue being a playwright or a screenwriter – they set up that acting isn’t working out for her, that nobody really liked her play or her auditions but that she does have a keen interest in writing. I think it would have felt more believable, too – how many people move to L.A. with the dream of becoming an actor/actress only to receive disappointment after disappointment? This happens universally, too. Not everyone gets their dream and sometimes, they discover new dreams along the way.
I’m speaking from personal experience, too. When I was applying for college, I was deadset on joining an acting course even though my drama teacher had told me time and time again that acting wasn’t for me. I wanted to be all ‘screw you, Mr L’ during my Oscar acceptance speech. But as I was applying, I began to feel uneasy – in that moment, the teacher for the film course began to speak to me and asked if I would be interested in joining that. Film had always been something that was of great importance to me and after a long conversation with him, I accepted.
Now, I can’t see myself doing anything else. I love writing about film, watching film and I have written and created some films in the past that I’m proud of. What I’m trying to say is not everyone gets their happy ending that they thought of; sometimes, it’s something we never expected.
If you’re still here, congratulations. That one got long, didn’t it? I hope you enjoyed reading all the same and please be sure to comment to let me know which film you would like me to review/analyse next. And be sure to follow for more film news, reviews and analyses.