La La Land

A review of La La Land

This evening I (dragged) took my husband to see the long awaited film ‘La La Land’ at the cinema as part of our monthly date afternoon/ evening (a parent’s version of date night – babysitters are easier to get in the afternoon!) I was excited to be able to sit and watch Ryan Gosling for just over two hours. my love affair with Ryan started way back when I first watched The Notebook (one of my favourite romantic films of all time). I promised my reluctant Husband Steven some eye candy in the form of Emma Stone, we both knew it wouldn’t really be his cup of tea.

The film started off with a very impromptu musical scene on an LA Highway and the film looked like it was going to be a full on musical, rivalling the likes of Grease. Much to Steven’s relief however, it was a film with a solid storyline rather than predominately being a musical and bursting into song at every random opportunity (although there was a fair bit of singing involved). La La Land sets the scene with Emma Stone as Mia, a girl in her twenties who has moved to LA to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. She works as a barista in a coffee shop on the set of Warner Brothers Studio, whilst she faces setback after setback at acting auditions. The story then hones in on Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, a passionate pianist who is in love with Jazz. The film also highlights his struggles as he is sacked from various paid gigs in clubs because he is unable to stick to the music he’s asked to play, he can’t help but add some of what he loves. Mia is drawn into a club one evening after hearing him play, he is rather rude to her after he is fired by the club manager.

Their paths cross again at a party where he is playing keys for a band that really doesn’t suit his style in order to make some money, after Mia taunts him for the way he treated her when she last met him, they end up having a clear spark after they talk about their passions over the most breath-taking scenery overlooking LA at sunset. Their vendez vous is interrupted by a call from Mia’s boyfriend and she rushes off leaving Sebastian desperate for more. He turns up at the coffee shop where she works soon after and they take a walk through the set talking about their hopes and dreams and what led them to where they are. Sebastian invites her on a date as ‘research’ and Mia soon realises she’s double booked a dinner date with her boyfriend and his high society colleagues. During dinner Mia feels detached from the conversation about prestige and when she hears the signature song that Sebastian played which first drew her too him, being played through the speakers, she realises that she should be with him and abruptly leaves dinner to run to the theatre where Sebastian is waiting.

A night of romance ensues and very soon we are led through their passionate and colourful love story, showing enticing scenes of their connection, love and how much they have in common. Sebastian reluctantly joins a band that is offering a generous and steady paycheck, the band is diverse and is moving away from his passion which he is intending to sacrifice short-term. He tells Mia of his dream to open a Jazz bar where musicians can play what they like, whenever they like – but the important thing is he’ll be following his passion and keeping Jazz alive, creating a younger generation of Jazz lovers. Mia tells him of her love for writing plays based on great love stories from a young age and he persuades her to write and star in her own play. The band Sebastian joined becomes a success and the strains start to show as he is constantly away on tour and Mia’s acting career hasn’t really taken off. He comes home to surprise her with a romantic dinner for one night in between tours and the conversation becomes fraught when Mia realises he’s talking about sacrificing his dreams to stay in the band to make money for the next few years. He retaliates by saying she felt better about her failing acting career when he was also a struggling musician.

They continue to be pulled apart by their growing differences in success until the evening that Mia performs her play at a theatre, Sebastian is double booked for a band photo shoot and arrives too late to be there to support her. Only a handful of people turn up after all her efforts to promote the play and coupled with the lack of Sebastian’s support, the person who persuaded her to go for it in the first place, she tells him distraught that it’s over – everything, her dream, the acting and she leaves the relationship open to interpretation about whether that is also over. She flees home to her parents to think about her next move and get some space, when Sebastian receives a call at their apartment from a top casting agent who came to watch her play, they want her to audition the next morning. Sebastian drives over to her parents house, finding their house by a clue that Mia once dropped about where they live, and managed to persuade her to come back for the audition. After much resistance Mia gives a fantastic audition, the opportunity is a four month contract in Paris with the role developing depending on who they cast. In the last scene of this part of the story, they are talk about where they stand and both agree that they need to pursue their dreams and see what happens. Mia looks at Sebastian with so much emotion and tells him “I’ll always love you,” Sebastian tells her the same.

The next scene fast forwards to five years later, showing Mia going into the same café on set that she used to work in and rather than it being her serving a Hollywood legend, it is apparent from the staff and customers reaction that she is now a pretty big star indeed. She looks very classy and polished and it is clear to see from the way she is holding herself that her career has been a huge success. The scene then flashes to Sebastian who mentions he is ‘back from Paris’ whilst in a bar discussing sets for that evenings. The next scene flashes back to Mia to reveal her returning to a beautiful home where she kisses a man and greets her young daughter. I was shocked at this point and wondered if this was a trick, showing a scene from the set of one of her movies. It then jumps to show Mia and her husband heading out for the evening dressed up and saying goodbye to a babysitter and their daughter and it becomes apparent that she and Sebastian didn’t in fact end up together.

I actually felt shocked and pretty crushed at this point. In most great love stories the hero and heroine find their way back to each other and end up together and I almost felt a little cheated at this point that it hadn’t happened for Mia and Sebastian. En-route to their destination, Mia and her husband pull off the highway due to traffic after she suggests that they go for dinner instead. They head past a basement club and her husband suggests it sounds fun and they should try it, to her shock as they head down into the club she sees the logo ‘Seb’s’ in the exact design that she had mocked up for him. During their relationship, he had argued to called his dream club ‘Chicken stick man’ and she had insisted that he call it Seb’s. She is clearly emotional and surprised as she takes a seat and her husband gets them some drinks as the band plays. They watch the band playing, seated alongside the other customers and when the set finishes, Sebastian comes onto the stage to introduce the band and thank and praise them. He suddenly stops cold as he spots Mia, the tension between them is heart-stopping.

The scene is set with so much passion and feeling and the acting and chemistry from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is electric. I felt incredibly emotional at this point and literally choked back the tears, most people have experienced a love that didn’t work out or a love that could have been great, that was left behind due to circumstances; such a heart-breaking and bittersweet scenario. Sebastian takes a seat at the piano and plays their signature song, the song where it all began which drew her to him. During the song the scene flashes back to that night she was drawn into the club where he was playing that same song and she walked over to praise him just as he’d been fired and instead of barging past her rudely he locked her into a passionate kiss. Many scenes followed of their amazing love story but how he’d done things differently and instead of following his dream he’d stood by Mia whilst she pursued hers. He’d moved to Paris with her after her big break and had never joined the band and they’d married and had a child together. Everything led them back to that same night only in his alternative scenario it was him sitting next to her holding her hand in that club watching someone else play the piano. He finished playing that song and the film came back to that present moment as the scenario really was, Sebastian was back at the piano and Mia was in the audience next to her husband. It really was heart-wrenching and thought provoking, it took a few moments to realise that scenario was playing in his head during their song like a ‘sliding-doors’ moment, showing how differently things would have turned out had he made some different choices. If he had chosen to sacrifice his own dream for Mia’s they could have been together and he would have his true love.

Mia’s husband asked if they should get another drink and she suggested they call it a night, she knew it was a bad idea to stay any longer. As Mia followed her husband out of the club she turned and looked at Sebastian for a few moments and Sebastian looked back at her. They held a knowing, mutual gaze as they mourned for the love that could have been. They smiled at one another and the look said that they both understood, this was the way it was supposed to be. It was apparent as they’d promised five years earlier, that they would always love each other.

It fills me with so much emotion replaying key moments from the film in my mind, the connection between Mia and Sebastian was so strong and had circumstances been different, they would have undoubtedly spent their whole lives together and would have been blissfully happy. For those amongst us who have been lucky enough to experience true love, we know how sacred and how rare it is to find and the thought of letting that go is devastating. The film delivers a bold and poignant message, that to get what we truly want there often must be sacrifices.

La La Land is a beautiful, inspiring and uplifting film about being relentless in the quest for what sets your heart and soul on fire, in the quest for fulfilling your lifelong dreams. In the real world where many of us give up on our dreams in favour of stable and secure ‘grown up’ jobs, it is pretty amazing to see people achieving their dreams and overcoming objects and making huge sacrifices to get there. It delivers the message that often getting what we want can come at a huge cost. And how different our lives could be now if we done things a little differently.

It conveys all the magic of LA and a beautiful lifestyle where anything is possible. It reiterates many life lessons and offers over two hours and pure escapism and an uplifting treat for the senses. And best of all it reignites that creative and optimistic spark that fuelled me as a child, a teenager and maybe even throughout hopeful stages of my adult life; that the sky is our limit and anything really is possible if we want it enough.

“Here’s to the dreamers.” 


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