The Perfection of Synchronicity
Ryan Gosling Golden Globe Best Actor in a Musical; Oscar Best Actress
Emma Stone Golden Globe Best Actress in a Musical
Written and directed by
Damien Chazelle Golden Globe Best Director; Oscar Best Director
Written and directed by
Justin Hurwitz Golden Globe Best Original Score
City of Stars Golden Globe Best Original Song; Oscar Best Original Song
I could tell you that La La Land is a well produced tearjerker feel-good movie about how life gets in the way of love and ambition for two artists in Los Angeles who can fly and dance in the sky.
I could also tell you it’s a story about what love really is — a delicate nectar combining devotion, dream, passion, and commitment to an ideal. Or the exquisite perfection of synchronicity. Or that selfless regard and conscious contribution to the fulfillment of someone else’s potential. Or how heart wrenching it is when you have to choose between love and ambition.
But I won’t.
I won’t speak of the wondrous almost Spielberg-esque camera sweeps that follow the starlets in their dream sequence on fame and recognition. Or of the quintessential theatrical lighting and astute choice of colour that so efficiently bridges the now-reality and the dream status of your innermost ambitions.
I won’t speak to that famous American pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps/don’t-take-no-for-an-answer recipe for home grown success, as our protagonists take note of every tidbit of information to get their foot in the door, create their own opportunities, forge their own success at the sweat of their brow.
I won’t say that it was brilliantly written and directed by Damien Chazelle, or that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone embody these ingénue characters so well that you ultimately believe in their love story as if it were your own. That they are so credible that tears will inevitably stream down your face when Mia walks into Sebastian’s jazz club years after their breakup, to see that he’d kept the element in the logo she made for him back then. That your heart will stop when he recognizes her in the audience on the arm of a husband, or when he sits down to play that original composition like an emblem to a love gone by. That this music is the soundtrack to all that was and could have been, and that the life-you-could-have-had sequence at the end is an emotionally riveting cinematographic tour de force that will leave you speechless and reaching for tissues. That you might be reliving your own lost opportunities and the years spent away from those who were significant in the early days.
No, I won’t speak a word about the magic that envelops you as you remember the euphoria of a love that propelled you to heights you’d never imagined. Or about flying into the stars and dancing on the Milky Way with someone who believes in you more than you do and who pushes you to become what you know you can be but are afraid to become. Someone who invests in your dream so it could come true, for you. Someone who means so much to you that you invest back, even if it means saying some truths that don’t want to be heard. When being there when you need it defines the strength and resolve of a bond that remains strong, even when you’ve come to the end of the record. Even when your last words to each other are, “I will always love you.”
But I won’t.
I won’t say I was enchanted. I won’t say it was delightful.
Because every one else will.
That day in the theatre, the room thankfully stayed dark for a few minutes after the credits so people could quickly wipe their cheeks before the lights exposed their shine. Some said it was “delicious”, others were recalling Whiplash (from the same director) and the many snippets of performances by real musicians including John Legend, and even Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone themselves as they lend their own singing voices to the track.
I won’t mention any of that. As I wipe my face dry.
I will let you enjoy it. You can tell me after if I was right about the tissues. J
Now for some details.
“That’s LA. They worship everything and they value nothing.”
La La Land opens with a fabulous scene of song and dance (choreographed by Mandy Moore) like a flash mob in the middle of a gridlocked Los Angeles freeway overpass on a bright sunny afternoon. Another Day of Sun is the title of the song. The camera sweeps from one dancer on a car roof to another getting out of his sedan to do a few steps on the hood of the hatchback in the next lane, and so on. The sunroofs are down, and hundreds of beautiful people are out in short skirts and shades, dancing out of the backs of trucks into the blaring California sun. The segment is an insanely joyful first 2 minutes that you’ll feel like clapping for, as it foreshadows an amazing display of talent in classic Broadway musical tradition for the next 2 hours.
When they get back in their cars, a guy passes a girl to the left — we know in the first minute that they’ll be special to one another, but they don’t. In fact they already hate each other; One studiously practicing her lines in the rearview mirror and not noticing that traffic has moved, the other listening to his own compositions in an old-school classic car with wood paneling and an integrated tape deck.
In the next scene we see the guy, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), transcribing a composition with a tape recorder in his home studio, and the girl, Mia (Emma Stone), auditioning for a part. She is engrossed in her character, who receives some bad news on the phone. The part requires her to cry, and just as the tear is welling up in Mia’s eye, a staffer walks in asking what the casting director wants for lunch. The audition stops there. Thank you for your time, I think we’re good. La La Land, so cold, so heartless…
Mia leaves disappointed and frustrated, but once home she dances her woes away with her three starlet roommates who convince her to go to a party in the Hollywood Hills to be seen by the movers and shakers of the industry. There she will recognize that guy passing her on the freeway that day, playing 80s covers in the house band. Sebastian.
The stage is set. We see two struggling artists in Los Angeles who are desperately passionate about their art but who can’t seem to break out. In their oblivion they don’t seem to notice each other either. Until they do.
Mia is aggressive yet self-doubting, and Sebastian is insecure yet insightful. The characters are finely chiseled and fit well in the storyline, which is nonetheless predictably romantic; Of course they start out hating each other, and of course they will meet again, see their compatibilities and fall in love.
A Singing-in-the-Rain style sequence on a belvedere overlooking moonlit Los Angeles sets the feel-good mood for the rest of the movie. It is wondrous and ethereal, and it is truly a pleasure to watch. If you look around the movie theatre, you will find a lot of smiling faces riveted to the screen.
At the 15 minute mark, we hear Sebastian’s emphatic tune (the infectious, award-winning City of Stars, composed by Justin Hurwitz) that will be cleverly weaved into the scenario like a climatic trigger until the end. The music pulls the viewer — and our heart strings — back to the poignant moments of the story as the relationship stands the test of time. (check out the trailer below)
The relationship between Mia and Sebastian really begins to blossom when they become supporters of each other’s dreams. This is what makes this film so special. If there is a theme to be found in this production, it is that true friendship has much more worth in the long run than a mere love affair. The imprint that we can leave in another person’s life and the everlasting bond that is forged when we really listen to their needs and address our energies to the fulfillment of their dreams can be life altering. It is a lesson we can’t afford to miss. And it is a profoundly powerful message, in this age of superficial, fast return on minimal investment, throwaway relationships.
For example, when Sebastian listens to Mia outlining her acting ambitions on their first date, he responds,
“You are a child prodigy playwright. You could write your own roles, write something that is as interesting as you are! You won’t have to audition anymore.”
He doesn’t ridicule her, half listen and change the subject, give her false hopes, comment on her looks or make shallow compliments to get her to sleep with him (which, believe me, women get much more often on any given day). Instead he listens, finds her inner motivations, sees her potential, understands her fears, and gives her the stepping stone she needs to believe in herself.
Mia does the same for Sebastian by encouraging him to go on tour and designing the logo for his club. She supports him even as she points out to him that she is seeing his current musical choices diluting his original motivation. She is his bouncing board and conscience.
Their relationship unravels because they are, as artists, going in different directions. But the years that separate them show an undeniable truth: More than love alone, the support they had given each other proved indispensable to what they had become. Sebastian’s confidence in Mia lead her to be discovered by an agent and become a renowned actress. Mia’s lucid advice and vision paved the way for him to get back to his original passion and open his own club.
The night they run into each other in Sebastian’s club, 5 years later, the audience is yet again swept up in their love affair. We are then thrust in a carousel of how-it-might-have-been scene remakes, bringing up own aching memories of loves won and lost, of having been fulfilled by someone or of having contributed to their success, whether we realize it or not. The fact that we all have similar poignant memories makes the film universal.
In this writer’s view, the takeaway of La La Land is a surprisingly mature and thought provoking musical that is almost critical of show business in an endearing and gentle manner. As though it wants to highlight the depth of humane relationships as the antidote to the callous chaos that seems to prevail everywhere.
Chazelle even throws in a jab: Sebastian speaking to Mia at the movie studio about the club scene in Los Angeles: “That’s LA. They worship everything and they value nothing.”
* the music is in the trailer 🙂