La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

A movie dedicated “To the fools who dream”.

Damien Chazzelle’s “La La Land” musical film, which won seven Golden Globes, is a dizzying daydream. One that’s only interrupted by the imperfections of real life.


“La La Land”: Ryan Gosling as Sebastian and Emma Stone as Mia kiss inside a tram in “La La Land”. They play a romantic as well as modern couple in this musical.
The movie begins with a traffic jam, the image of swelling frustration among the morning commuters on a clogged highway in Los Angeles. The mood is especially stark with the beeline of hopefuls heading towards their city of dreams. Soon, a lady talks to herself inside a car and she breaks into a song. In the song, she remembers that she left her friend in her hometown to find fame and wealth in “La La Land”.

“La La Land”, refers to the City of Los Angeles, in particular the enigma of Hollywood where the movie is set and whatever the land of dreams may look like, where the movie occasionally breaks into. The young woman climbs out of her car, begins to dance and is soon accompanied by others, from many others until the screen is filled with young hopefuls dancing on the hoods and roofs of their cars and the intrepid voices of their hearts are sent into the blue heavens above. It is as if the dancers of West Side Story had lost their way into Jean-Luc Godard’s legendary Stauszene from “The Weekend”.

The uncanny scene stops just as fast as it began. Everyone slinks back into his car. The festive orchestra becomes a banal concert of honks and curses. It is but a taste for the whirlwind that will sweep us for the rest of this movie. Which is a dizzying daydream, interrupted only by the imperfections of real life.

The film has just received Seven Golden Globes and is poised to be the lead in the upcoming Academy Awards. The chances for the Oscars are good, because the new film by the American director of the film, Damien Chazelle, is about a thing from which Hollywood is particularly enamored with, namely itself. A long list of movies dealing with Hollywood and showbiz have known to become favorites in the race.

In the traffic jam, our lovers, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), meet for the first time. He’ll give her the stare for holding up the line. She shows him the middle finger. That’s how love begins!

We have to wait a while before the two approach each other. This happens at a party in the hills of Hollywood. They stroll together to their cars in the purple dusk and fall into a song entitled “A Lovely Night”. It’s about the waste of such a splendid night on two people who aren’t in love. Of course, we know that the opposite is the case just as soon as she said goodbye. After overcoming the mutual dislike, the two swirl above the clouds and into romance.

She wants to become an actress. He is a jazz pianist who longs to open his own club. In other words, Mia and Sebastian are like thousands of men and women in Hollywood. She goes to fruitless auditions and serves coffee in painful proximity to the actual stars. The coffee shop is located right in front of the window where they shot the window scene in Casablanca. Below it, an umbrella shop. A clear reference to the Jacques Demy’s French tragic operrreta “Parapluies de Cherbourg” which has so many similiraties in tone and story to Lala Land.

Sebastian plays the background piano music in a restaurant, where he also tries his own beautiful piano ballad against the will of his boss.

The two do not have much, but they have each other, and for a while they float on a cloud brilliant starust and of bliss. She begins to write a one-person piece and tries to live her dream as he gives up pursuing his dream for a while and goes on tour with a popular pop jazz band to pay the bills.

He is successful but compromised. Her piece flops and she feels humiliated. “That’s LA,” Sebastian says bitterly. “They worship everything, and they value nothing.” From then on the film tells a story about art, compromises and ideals, and even about the nature of these ideals, in a way that is hopeful, but somehow also heartbreaking.

The new Rogers and Astaire? … Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. Photograph: Allstar/Lionsgate
Reminds us of old Hollywood love teams: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in the jazz club scene in La La Land.

With La La Land, Damien Chazelle has created a glowing, unforgettable thing, a classic Hollywood musical that deliberately delights in the brilliance and melancholy of the French musicals of Jacques Demy but offers so much more. In this respect, it is a love letter to a long past era but a story that couldn’t strike a more opportune chord in the present.

His heroine Mia sleeps under an oversized poster by Ingrid Bergman and works on the studio ground on which Casablanca was shot. His hero Sebastian admires antiquated jazz musicians and lives in a shabby apartment amidst stacks of records. When the two dance for the first time, Sebastian even makes a small whirl around a lantern post as Gene Kelly did once in”Singin’ in the Rain”. The two watch a James Dean film, then go to the Griffith Observatory, breaking into the planetarium and sharing a first kiss that suddenly transforms them into Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers slowly waltzing past stars and planets – quite literally.

Stone and Gosling are not professional singers or dancers, but the film does not claim that either. La La Land is not as smooth as the old musicals. That is where this movie takes off. What both of them, Gosling and Stone, may lack in singing and dancing, are compensated by their passion and teamwork (there is a reason why they have already worked together three times).

The best dancer of all is cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who portrays the jazzy tempo, the sad melodies and lush orchestras of composer Justin Hurwitz with a playful landscape, where street lanterns become lighthouses and clouds stand for smog. Los Angeles, a permanent place of gangsters, has rarely looked so desirable, but has also rarely been so recognizable. La La Land is a film where young artists indulge between humiliating audiences and soulless jobs, hipsters indulge in nostalgia, make people at pool parties important all year round, cars mercilessly towed and where young people have no insurance.
Not every compromise must be self-deception.

“Why do you say ‘romantic’, as if it were a swear word?”, Sebastian wants to know in one scene from his sister. “Because unpaid bills are not romantic,” she replies. La La Land pays tribute to romantics like him and Mia, but it is also about something far less romantic. It is about the fact that dreams are alive. And because they are alive, they are subject to change, and it is about the fact that not every compromise in life has to be a self-deception.

A mean but not fundamentally incorrect description of La La Land would be to call it a film about people who choose career over love and who are rewarded for doing so. For modern young people, the kind of relationships that they lead with themselves is often more romantic and realistic than the one they have with someone else.

Love is ephemeral and relationships are replaceable. Careers can be permanent and art can last forever. You’ve already seen in the same thing in Chazelle’s debut feature length, Whiplash, where dreams are shown to have their price.

In the oscar-crowned drama, a young drummer ends his relationship with his girlfriend because he would like to pursues bigger things and that his love for her prevents him from doing so. Chazelle is only 31 years old, but he is a living proof that stubbornness can pay off. La La Land was also just once his dream project. He began to write the script as Harvard undergrad. That this trippy musical film has been produced is a small miracle for the mere fact that none of things that we usually see on mainstream movies are serve as a selling point. NO sex, violence, superheroes, monsters or spaceships in this movie.

When the bittersweet conclusion about lost love is danced in this movie, it is hard not to think about the what ifs. We usually dismiss happy endings in movies as unrealistic even if we benefit from that assurance that the characters live happily ever after…together. But there are moments when the romantics must heed the cynics within themselves. Chazelle does this and because movie time is magical, he bends space and time and exposes our secret desire for this with his imagination. Towards the end Emma Stone sings “to the fools who dream” and that’s enough take away from this movie. La La Land has made fools and dreamers of us all.


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