(For a ‘streamlined’ version of this article, visit The National Student!)
Never before have I adored a film so much that I went straight back to the cinema to enjoy the experience all over again. That’s what La La Land is, an experience. And it was even better the second time around!
Ever since then I’ve been desperate to write this article, as I’m practically overflowing with adoration for this film and I need to vent it somewhere. Exam season is nearly over now, so I finally have an excuse to share with you the reasons why I love La La Land so, so much! (Spoilers alert, obvs…)
1. I didn’t listen to the hype
Firstly, I went to see La La Land on a whim. I knew practically nothing about it apart from just watching the trailer the day before, and I think this is such an important part of why I was so blown away by the film; I was able to go in and enjoy it without any preconceived ideas about what it would be like.
I know some people who had read negative articles about the film before seeing it and then started noticing specific things whilst watching it, which of course ruined the experience. And I also know others who had read so much about how amazing it was that they were then disappointed.
Saying this however, I’d like to think that reading my rave reviews before seeing the film won’t leave you feeling disappointed when you watch it. I hope that instead it will simply equip you with the ability to notice all of the fantastic things about the film so you can appreciate it to the fullest. (Just to reiterate, from now on this article does contain many spoilers!!)
2. Expectations vs. Reality
As mentioned, the only idea I had of the film was from the trailer I watched (this one) and I absolutely LOVE how it plays with your expectations of the film! When we got to the bar scene, I was just waiting for that moment, that kiss from the trailer that would spark off a wonderful whirlwind romance, and I was honestly completely shocked and confused when nothing happened the way I had expected it to.
Playing with expectations vs. reality seems to be such a big theme throughout the film. The real love story between Mia and Sebastian didn’t play out the way we expected it to in the trailer, or how we expect it to generally when we think of a ‘typical Hollywood romance’. Neither Mia or Sebastian’s lives pan out like they had expected them too, there are twists and turns along the way that they never had planned for. And their relationship, as well as the film in general, doesn’t end how we expect it to either, completely catching us off guard with a slam to the heart: but more about that later.
3. Reality vs. Fantasy
Intrinsically linked to the way in which it plays with expectations and reality, La La Land also combines reality in fantasy in such a wonderful way. As said, the realities of Mia and Sebastian’s lives don’t pan out quite like they do in the wild fantasies they had imagined when they were younger- but there is more to it than that.
The film consistently intertwines a timeline of seemingly realistic events with completely fantastical and dreamlike elements. Take that (iconic) duet and tap-dancing scene on the hill for example, with Mia in her yellow dress. (First of all, can we just point out that the promotional poster makes this scene look so romantic, yet the song they are singing is the most anti-romantic of them all: playing with expectations yet again here!) But back to the topic at hand, what we see is raw, realistic dialogue combined with a burst of energetic, incredible, song and dance: yet somehow we feel like this really could happen. Director, Chazelle, creates this effect by shooting the scene as one, unbroken, six minute long take, so that we can see the little imperfections of the characters when they finish dancing: they are visibly out of breath, and Mia’s hair is just slightly out of place. It’s these perfect imperfections that blur the line between fantasy and reality so gracefully, as they bring the film’s fantastic elements into a space that feels real.
And we can’t talk about the combination of fantasy and reality without mentioning that ending sequence, a whirlwind fantasy of the entire film, which seems to lament the “what could’ve been” in such a breathtakingly poignant way. I recently discovered an amazing video which displays this fantasy scene in all its glory, along side its ‘real life’ event counterparts, it is incredible and definitely worth a watch- once you have seen the film of course! (Warning: it will mess up your emotions all over again)
We also see realism combined with magical fantasy in terms of the film’s settings. Chazelle claimed that he wanted to shoot in real LA locations, but ‘make them look fake’:
“It was often subtle things, like that lamppost [on the poster]. Our production designer built that. Basically every street in the movie has these lampposts on it—none of which are on the real streets in L.A., but we would just kind of pepper them throughout and turn them on because it added a little something. […] Just stuff like that that was about taking the real city, but adding this magical touch to it, sometimes just to the background. It also had to do with what time of day we would shoot—shooting a lot at “magic hour” and trying to get those magical skies. None of that is fake or done in post. Those are those real L.A. skies” (Chazelle, Comcast, 2016)
4. The struggle of an artist (Here’s to the fools who dream…)
Something about the film that speaks to me personally is the fact that it deals with the theme of the struggling artist. Anyone trying to make a living from art, be it acting, music, painting, film, or otherwise, knows the ongoing struggle of following your dream.
We endlessly harass ourselves with questions: ‘Will people like it? Won’t they? Does it even matter? Am I good enough? Is this just a pipe dream? Will I ever succeed?‘
La La Land acknowledges these doubts and insecurities, and it seems to scream ‘It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks! It doesn’t matter whether anyone likes what you do or not! Just keep on doing exactly what you’ve dreamed of!’ (And not just in its general story and message: Sebastian literally screams “Fuck them!” at Mia when she wonders whether people will like her show or not).
What I also love is that this message isn’t sugar coated, as we’ve discussed, the film acknowledges that things don’t always go to plan, and there will be huge sacrifices to make along the way (like erm, losing the love of your life) but if you keep on creating what you are truly passionate about, you will eventually achieve your dreams.
I like to think that this message also applies to the overall process of making the film too, maybe Chazelle had doubts about his vision, wondering whether people would like it or not, but he too exclaimed “Fuck them!” and carried on working towards his dream. Which obviously worked out well because this film has been crazy successful: yet again reaffirming that artists should trust their struggle and believe in their dreams.
(And don’t you dare think I’m going to make this point without mentioning ‘The Fools who Dream’ – see point #7)
5. Representation of enthusiastic, passionate people (People love what other people are passionate about)
I love that La La Land represents artists that successfully achieve their dreams as truly enthusiastic, passionate people. Yes they have their doubts and this isn’t denied, but they genuinely love what they do, and this passion is what drives their successes. All too often I feel that films show enthusiastic people as over-the-top and with their heads stuck in their silly pipe dreams, normally we see that it is supposedly ‘cooler’ to be laid back, effortless and ‘super chill’.
I used to be embarrassed about how much I care about things, and how enthusiastic I can get about certain projects, but now I’ve grown I’ve realised that it is people with the genuine enthusiasm and passion for what they do that interest me the most. In fact, someone who is passionate can probably make me fall in love with anything. I always thought I hated Jazz! But Sebastian’s explanation of it, his enthusiasm and the light in his eyes when he spoke about how much he loved it: it kinda made me love it too! (No ‘mansplaining’ here as far as I can see, it just left me like ‘well damn Sebastian, thanks a lot, now I need to go listen to jazz, you passionate son of a…) You can also so clearly see that Chazelle and his team were just as passionate about making this film as Sebastian is about jazz (the film took like 6 years to make, people!), and it is definitely one of the biggest reasons why I love it so much. As Mia puts it well; “people love what other people are passionate about.”
6. Emma Stone
Speaking of Mia, I feel it is undeniable that she is the true protagonist of this film. I never realised just how powerful and outstanding her acting was!
During the first audition scenes, she shows us that both her acting, and her acted acting are absolutely incredible. I swear that woman has the most expressive face I have ever seen! She seems to have facial muscles that I didn’t even know existed, does she train them!?
I particularly love that Mia is inspired to create her one woman show because Sebastian tells her to “write something as interesting as you are.” Mia’s story of moving away when she is young to make a career in Hollywood, attending multiple auditions and feeling dejected, then eventually rocketing to fame and success, is a story so similar to the real life story of Emma Stone herself. And Emma shines so brightly in this film, in a way I feel that La La Land is her ‘one woman show’: Chazelle has written something ‘as interesting as she is.’
7. THE AUDITION
Of course, we can’t mention Emma’s incredible acting without talking about that audition scene, which is HANDS DOWN my personal highlight of the film.
“It’s not easy to boil an entire year of film down to the single moment, the single scene that made you feel something deeper than you thought cinema was capable of delivering. In 2016, that single moment was Emma Stone’s performance of a song called “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (Onda, Comcast, 2016)
This quote isn’t hyperbolic, it really did make me feel something deeper than I ever thought a film would. I have never seen, heard, or felt, the melancholy of being a dreamer captured so beautifully. The emotional charge in this scene is so overwhelming that even thinking about it now actually starts to bring tears to my eyes. How can something cry so much that I am reduced to a whimpering mess, yet at the same time make me feel so ALIVE and overwhelmingly inspired to go out and chase my dreams!?!?
(Fun fact: the script for that scene simply read: “Emma sings. She is astonishing.“ And astonishing she was.)
8. That soundtrack though!
Though Audition (The Fools who Dream) is what I would personally consider to be the climactic song of the film, I can’t deny how much I am OBSESSED with the entire soundtrack. So much so that in order to even begin to express my love for this soundtrack, I had to write a separate article that goes through each track individually, which you can read here. (Please let me know what you think!)
I need to get this out of the way first though: I know that the actors in this film aren’t amazing, perfect, ‘blow-you-away’ singers. And guess what? That’s the point! It all comes back to that realism vs. fantasy element; these are just ordinary, regular people, with raw, realistic, non-broadway voices; and I love that! (And I also love it because I don’t feel as guilty when I sing the songs in the shower and catch the sound of my own very ‘non-broadway’ voice)
Plus, another fun fact for you: Chazelle and the composer, Hurwitz, worked on more than 1,900 track demos for this film. One thousand, nine hundred: just let that sink in. No wonder this soundtrack is incredible! THANKS U GUYS<3
9. Colour, Costumes, and Cinematography
I’m sorry to roll all of these aspects into one, the truth is that they all deserve an article of their own- but they also are all so interconnected! (And I am quickly becoming aware that I have nearly reached the word count for an academic essay: oops!)
I can only find one word that seems to do the use of colour in this film justice: enchanting. The specific combination of colours in every single shot feels so carefully crafted that I can almost taste it. And every wardrobe choice ties into this feeling too: each item of clothing is block-colour and is coordinated so particularly. Of course Emma’s dresses on the hill and in the planetarium are gorgeous, but even just her neat, simple, outfits when she is out an about with Seb in their many montages are completely perfect.
The feeling that all decisions were carefully considered also applies to the cinematography in general, which has been aptly described as a ‘Techni-colour inspired splendour’ and ‘a love letter to the Hollywood movie.’ Although I personally didn’t catch many of the nods and references to old Hollywood movies and musicals, or the techniques that these movies used, when I watched the film (I really don’t know much about Hollywood movies or musicals!) I have really enjoyed learning about them retrospectively. If this interests you I would recommend watching this fantastic video by the ever so passionate Hazel Hayes: “why La La Land feels like a classic.”
Anyway, the bottom line is, what with its enchanting colours, costumes, and cinematography, La La Land is more than a film: it is A WORK OF ART.
10. The Ending
Though I’m kind of still coming to terms with the ending of this film, I am still able to admit that it is bloody brilliant.
Many have interpreted it in different ways, but to me, the final, fantastical sequence represents Sebastian playing an apology to Mia, lamenting the what could have been. She was always his ‘Someone in the Crowd’, watching him play, but he was never there to watch her, not even at her one woman show. And because of this, both of their dreams did come true, though tragically, not together. And after all that fantasy, we are brought back to reality one last time, and reminded of the painful truth that we can’t always have everything we want, including a happy ending.
Sorry I wrote like 2,600 words guys, what can I say? I’m ‘passionate and enthusiastic’! Please let me know what you think of La La Land (and its ending) in the comments down below, I’d love to know your opinions!
(P.S I can’t believe I am saying this, but I am going to see La La Land PERFORMED WITH A LIVE ORCHESTRA in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on September 24th 2017. I literally cannot wait, this is going to be so unbelievably exciting and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!!)
Image credits: Lionsgate, 2016 ©