If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of the film, please check it out over here. I wrote it all the way back in September, fresh from seeing it at TIFF, and I’ve been waiting all this bloody time just to talk about what for me is the best film of the year. I was absolutely giddy for this movie, how it made me feel, how it made me think, how it whisked me away into something both surreal and familiar. We exited the theatre from La La Land and rushed on to the next (I think it must have been Lion) but between the two, I wept. I wept for heartbreak, and for beauty, because La La Land is brimming with both.
If you’ve kept reading, then you know by now that La La Land, for all of its romance, does not have a traditionally happy ending. But are the characters unhappy? Mia and Seb separate in part because their ambitions overshadow their love. Was this the right move? Do they have regrets? Certainly they’ve both gone on to achieve the success they so coveted. Mia is married, with children. When she sits in Seb’s club at the end, we are treated to an alternate version of events in which they manage to stay together. Do they wish that this was so? Do they still love each other? Have they moved on?
One of Chazelle’s unspoken themes must be “Is it worth it?” – is it?
During their courtship, the movie takes cliches about love and makes them true: love lifts them, they dance on air, they sing from rooftops. Did this feel organic to you in the movie? I often felt that when things felt intense to them, they broke out into song as a metaphor for feelings that are too fervent to verbalize. When words fail, they’d sing, or dance, which is often the way we feel in our excited little hearts when we’re first falling in love (reminds me of a certain scene in 500 Day of Summer).
Sean noticed that when the relationship got rocky, the movie got a little more ordinary, and frankly, a little repetitive. The songs are reused. But in time he felt like that was sort of the point: that the newness and wonder of the relationship had worn off, that they were beyond the first crush and settling into patterns and habits and less passion. The film itself reflects it. Did you find new meaning in songs as they were revisited? During the second half of the film, during the relationship’s demise, there is noticeably less music, which means less joy, less intensity. Their world goes a little drab when the shine has worn off. Did you miss the music when it was gone? Certainly when it returns in that final scene, it’s a heart breaker.
Originally Chazelle imagined that Miles Teller and Emma Watson would fulfill the lead roles. I can’t picture Teller ever being right for the part. Watson left the project so she could do another musical, Beauty and the Beast. Ryan Gosling ended up turning down the opportunity to play the Beast so he could do this instead, with frequent collaborator, Emma Stone. Chazelle has stated they were hired together intentionally, because they’re a modern-day version of an old-Hollywood couple, frequently working together and already having an established chemistry. Do you think anyone else could have pulled off these roles? Do you think either of them has a legit chance at an Oscar?
Seb states that jazz has to be experienced. He’s disgusted by people who use it as ‘background music.’ It’s a special language that he teaches her and she comes to appreciate. He takes full advantage in the final scene, telling her he still loves her using only his music, and he plays so passionately that she can see how he wishes things had been different. However, there’s an interesting part in the movie, the “sellout” phase where Seb is playing jazz in the background during a scene. Is this where it all went downhill? What would you say was their final straw?
Chazelle has deliberately taken this musical off the backlots and grounded it in modern-day Los Angeles. The opening number helps set the tone. This is the world in which they live, but both are outsiders amongst that set. At the end of the number, Gosling gives Stone the finger before driving off. The offramp used in this number is the same one they used in Speed, where they had to jump the gap. Lots of real locations were used in the film – even Seb’s apartment is an actual apartment, not a set. Let’s not forget that the movie isn’t called Mia or Seb, it’s called La La Land: the city is also a character. City of stars, city of dreams. Did the locations help give the movie a sense of reality to you?
The one criticism I’ve heard of this movie is that it never addresses the true roots of jazz: does La La Land “whitesplain” jazz? Is it racist in its portrayal? Did Damien Chazelle fail us by casting white actors in a movie about jazz? Then I wondered – wouldn’t Whiplash have faced the same controversy? It’s another movie about jazz starring two white dudes, but I don’t recall hearing any hooplah over it [turns out the criticism was there all along]. Of course it’s not for me to say, but I can understand how it might sting a little to have an art form that was “invented” by African-Americans, music by Black people for Black people, be told by white people. Not to say that jazz belongs to any one people, but if these are the only stories being told about jazz, then maybe the stories belong to the people who truly wrote them. And it does feel regressive in 2016 to see a white man play jazz, and a white woman dance to it, while people of colour make up the blurry background characters surrounding them, out of focus, besides the point. What do you think – is there cultural misappropriation going on here? Is Ryan Gosling a “white man saviour” in his quest to save jazz?
Mia and her friends are resplendent in primary colours because they’re young, and they dream in technicolour. She’s dressed in emerald, saphire, yellow. At the end of the movie though, she’s wearing white. She’s supposedly made her dreams come true, but she’s leached of colour. What’s that about?