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La La Land: An Ode to the Golden Era of Film

Chris McMahon, Editor

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Warning, this contains spoilers. If you plan on watching the film I would recommend not reading this article, read until the line “…this is not a perfect romance.” Besides that, enjoy.

 

Boy meets girl in traffic. Girl flips boy off. Girl meets boy in a bar. Boy angrily brushes by her. Boy and girl meet again, at a party. They click.

As we come to know, the ‘boy,’ Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), is an aspiring Jazz pianist who is pessimistic about the world; the ‘girl,’ Mia (Emma Stone), is an out of work actress working as a barista looking for her big break. Their story of love and heartbreak is wrapped up in Damien Chazelle’s colorful, sweet-sounding, expertly choreographed film “La La Land.” While the score and soundtrack of the movie – music by Justin Hurwitz and lyrics mainly done by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul – is completely original and very well done, one would be remiss in saying the movie itself is truly authentic. The movie itself can be seen as an ode to the golden age of film and to the days when movie romances contained kissing and talking, not sex and snapchatting. But, as sad as it is to believe, movies aren’t made this way anymore. Where Sebastian glides into a song while rambling along a pier, he could just as easily have been locked on his phone– eyes down and taking selfies. So, the situation begs, why make a movie like this in 2017?

The answer, for the most part, is to give the movie going audience some nostalgia of the good-ol-days. We begin on a bumper to bumper, hot, LA highway. Horns honk, cars sit still, and the people sweat. But then, you hear a beat start to grow. The camera zooms to a woman sweltering in her car and, instead of honking and yelling, she breaks out into song– as does the rest of the freeway. Soon, the mood of the movie has been set, and the one contained drivers loudly chant “it’s another day of sun.”

This opening scene, all the way through the introduction of our two main characters, acts as a prologue which tells us two bits of information. First and foremost, it shows the demeanor of our two characters. Sebastian, the impatient classic-car driver, loves the oldies and lives life with his head shoved in the clouds. Mia also comes off as a dreamer. She is not always aware of the world around her, but she can handle the hecklers and does her own thing. Second, it tells us that there will be music, and it will tell us things about the film.

After the opening ‘prologue’ we meet Mia, who spends her days auditioning, aimlessly working at a Warner Brothers set coffee shop, and writing her own play. After her roommates drag her out of bed following a bad audition to a party, Mia’s car is towed and she must walk home. On the way, however, she hears the sweet sound of a jazz pianist from a bar and she enters to see who is playing. Up to this point the movie had been mainly focused on Mia, but now we see the other side of the soon to be duo – Sebastian. Similar to Mia, Sebastian chased his dream, to own, run and perform at his own jazz bar. He seems to be a bit down on his luck at the start of the film, but that does not prevent him from chasing the tune of true jazz.

But Sebastian is more than just a jazz artist. As we see his and Mia’s relationship begin to bloom, we see that Sebastian acts as Chazelle’s vehicle of nostalgia. He thrives off of keeping jazz alive, and his love of old movies is what prompts him to ask Mia to see one with him. Sebastians constant tug on Mia to look back to the past is the same way Chazelle wants us all to look at this movie– made on physical film with a focus on the colors and the music like we are back in 1957.

The entanglement we, the audience, see between Sebastian and Mia shows us that this is similar, yet not another formulaic romance of the golden era of film. Instead of rigidly perfect, with each step exactly synched and choreographed, there can be seen a small misstep in a dance scene or a faltering voice in a song. But this intentional act was done so to tell the audience that while it does resemble a perfect romance, it is not a perfect romance.

This real and pragmatic view of romance may be why the movie buckles in the second half. The reality of money and a steady paycheck dilute the pure love between Mia and Sebastian. Out of fear of not being good enough Sebastian takes a job he hates, making music he despises, with a man he abhors. He leaves to go on tour, which ends up driving him and Mia as far apart from one another as they could go. Sebastian is never home, he doesn’t make it to her one night only, one woman play, where she specifically reserved a seat for him. As he shows up right as she walks out of the theatre, eyes soaked with tears, she tells him that she is leaving Los Angeles and she is moving back with her parents to figure things out. Sebastian begins to see what he has become. He knows that without Mia, life is immensely harder and he quits his job and moves back to LA. One morning, Sebastian gets a call about an audition for Mia. He immediately does what any man in love would’ve done, and drives out to Nevada to give Mia the news. She hesitantly agrees, and drives back to Los Angeles with him the next morning. We see Mia nail the audition, that this one in particular feels different and that she will more than likely get the job, filming in Paris. Then, the screen cuts to black.

Jump ahead to five years later. Mia is now a movie star, walking onto the set of Warner Brothers studios to buy coffee at the same place she used to work. Sebastian now owns his own jazz bar, and he gets to perform every night. All is good in the world. They achieved their dreams and are happy– but they are not with each other. In a cold and utterly dismal sequence of scenes, Mia and her husband enter a jazz bar after hearing music from the street after a night out for dinner. Walking down, Mia realises that she is in his jazz bar. Sitting down in at a table, she faces the stage with all the other viewers who are watching the jazz bands play. Then, the music cuts and Sebastian walks on stage. Peering out into the crowd, he greets the crowd before locking eyes with his love. Silence fills the room, and you can tell that the characters hearts have just shattered into countless pieces. Then, in one swift stroke of the piano keys, Sebastian plays the song he played when Mia was first mesmerized by his music. At the same moment Chazelle does the unthinkable– he gives the audience the perfect relationship they wanted. You see a dance number which shows Sebastian and Mia both fulfilling their dreams, side-by-side, never having made a wrong decision.

Boy sees girl. Girl sees boy. Boy and girl both wonder what could’ve been.

 

Photo Credits:  << http://www.imdb.com/ >>

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