How many times have we had to decide between two seemingly equal opportunities? Probably a great many! Such is the case with the life of the two main characters in the Oscar-winning musical La La Land. The movie was released initially on November 9, 2016. It stars Ryan Gosling as Sebastian and Emma Stone as Mia. The soundtrack includes “City of Stars” by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, “Another Day of Sun” by Justin Hurwitz, “Someone in the Crowd” by Emma Stone, etc. Filming took place in 2015 in Los Angeles; and, this year, the movie received fourteen Academy Awards nominations, making the director Chazelle the youngest filmmaker to win the best director award at his age.
In this romantic musical, Sebastian is an aspiring musician and Mia a struggling actress, and they have their own dreams. They cross paths, first, on a Los Angeles freeway, foreshadowing their association with Hollywood; but they don’t know each other. Then, Mia catches a glimpse of Sebastian in a restaurant at which he sings. Later on, in a party, Mia runs into Sebastian and his band and they share a brief conversation ending up with their accompanying each other on the way home and dancing in the street. They meet again and Sebastian talks about his visions of the real free jazz and his decision to start his own club. Meanwhile, Mia is doing several auditions, all of which are unsuccessful. For the rest of the plot, we see her choosing between a life with Sebastian and the other life, in which she is a successful artist but not as happy as she could have been with Sebastian. The movie finishes with an open ending. Mia smiles to Sebastian, as if remembering their happy memories, and we are left to guess how the rest of the story will be. Maybe, Mia and Sebastian will choose love after all.
The storyline shows an example of real-life decisions. Sometimes you get to choose; between your dreams. Sometimes the road you take is so far away from your idea of happiness but you are successful in it. Each moment of people’s lives is like a crossroad. At the beginning of each crossroad, there is an opportunity for making the right decision and every choice puts us forward into a different world. Luckily, there is always a moment when you can choose again and start over. It’s never too late.
Mia accompanies Sebastian on his path toward success. Sebastian joins a band and becomes famous. Mia does an audition and she becomes so emotional that she gets the part. The fantastic scene, which is accompanied with Mia singing in the audition session, shows her sensitivity and emotions. The eye is directed toward Mia’s face and mouth movements, emphasizing more her character and the significance of her emotions, decisions, and destiny. After she gets the part, she realizes that she has to go to Paris. Her dream separates them. At this point, we see a great shift toward another dreamy world in which Mia is married to someone else. At 1:45:49, Mia meets her little daughter, showing a normal happy life.
Subsequently, when she and his partner are driving and they get stuck in traffic, they decide to leave the car and go to a club. As Mia enters the club, she notices a shining logo and recognizes it immediately because she helped Sebastian make it. She sits and watches Sebastian playing music. At around 1:50:20, we have the most emotional scene, when Sebastian wants to play but waits and thinks for about two or three minutes. He is brooding and we can only see his face in a deep-focus cinematic shot.
The scene goes dark and dreamlike again. Suddenly, they are at the same restaurant scene of 25:51. Same place, same people, but different reactions: they meet and kiss. And this time, they are both successful artists. At 1:53:08, the scene becomes extremely surrealistic. They enter a world where there is emptiness and whiteness. There are some signs reading “stage,” painted brick walls, and people dancing in the streets. At 1:54:19, a geography map moves, and a small toy plane flies over to the destination of Paris. In Paris, they are both happy and follow their dreams. At 1:56:40, they sit and watch a movie, which is a story exhibiting a life when they were together and had a child. The same scene of 1:49:30 is repeated but this time with Sebastian. They enter a club where they sit and listen to music.
With a crossfade, we see Sebastian’s moment of thinking again, as if everything has happened in his dreams. He plays a piece, and is applauded by the audience. Mia has to leave but, in the final moment, looks back at Sebastian and smiles. The End!?
The movie is truly a masterpiece. It couldn’t show the normal but romantic life of modern man any better. According to Biography.com, the director is a Harvard-educated jazz musician; so it is no surprise that he made use of his knowledge and produced his film in accordance with academic standards and extraordinary features. With fanciful quality, great music, and motley shots, he has depicted a dreamy world where nothing matters but real emotions.
A most interesting feature of the movie is the ironic indifference and coolness performed by characters, when they face real-life trauma. There is a flow of emotions and the movie never pauses for too long, unless there is some important feeling in the air. According to Cinematary.com, in the musical, the euphuism of the Golden Age of Hollywood is being longed for. Mia and Sebastian are California dreamers who are faced with this real question of life: should artists give up their ambition, tradition, and achievements in return for an easy, happy life? Do career achievements transcend love and conjugal life? In this musical, even the soundtrack evokes the same opposites, when both Mia and Sebastian sing: “City of stars! Are you shining just for me” and “someone in the crowd could take you where you wanna go.” What is success if you cannot share it with someone else, and what is love if it does not take you where you want to go?
Another scene provoking the same question begins around 1:41:30 when the two have sat on a bench in the outdoors, probably on top of a hill behind the observatory building and away from the city crowd. They are alone and start talking to each other. The focus is on their faces and facial expressions. We can follow Mia’s every single facial movement. High-key lighting and the natural view inform the audience of summertime, while the sunshine and a breeze make the space comfortable and familiar. The actors are idyllic, real people. She stares at Sebastian and understands him deeply. She knows him, and the chemistry between the actors brings about a sense of mystery. As for the mise-en-scène, the observatory, an iconic location in LA, connotes Hollywood.
Although there are many important scenes in the movie, the one behind the observatory can be considered an emotional, key scene. There is no significant editing, and the cinematography is executed very naturally and realistically. Mia looks at Sebastian while reading his mind and following his speech and ideas eagerly. Only people who love each other can enjoy such a silent but beautiful communication. Watching the next scene, which jumps forward to five years later when Mia becomes a celebrity and Sebastian a musician, fans might wonder: “what happened to their moment then? Did they choose victory over love?”
The open ending does not answer these questions, but maybe the utopian-like beginning of the film, when Hollywood crew dance and sing and fly in the iconic freeway, evokes a new strategy for these dilemmas. Maybe there could be a new time and world where there is no crossroad for destiny-making decisions. People can have it all and live to the fullest.
“Damien Chazelle.” Biography.com. 26 Feb. 2017. Web. 12 Sept. 2017. <https://www.biography.com/people/damien-chazelle-022517>.
“Swafford, Andrew.” “La La Land (2016) by Damien Chazelle.” Cinematary.com. 27 Dec. 2016. Web. 12 Sept. 2017. <http://www.cinematary.com/writing/2016/12/27/la-la-land-2016-by-damien-chazelle>.
Elham Shabani is twenty-eight years old and comes from Iran. Shabani studies English Language and Literature at the University of Isfahan and is interested in film and novel criticism.
La La Land (2016)
Director Damien Sayre Chazelle
Runtime 128 minutes