A bright, colourful and tragic ode to all that is vulnerable in us. Why do we dream? What makes us hold on to some dreams and give up on others? What makes some of us reach for the stars even when our feet seem to be encased in concrete? Can you be happy in failure or at best, content? Can you be devastated in success or will your heart achieve a compromise with your head with the passage of imperceptible little slivers of time?
La La Land pays obvious homage to the big-budget musicals of the MGM era and to the golden age of Jazz. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone try, with varying levels of success, to emulate Fred & Ginger, and for brief flashes, they do. Emma Stone's Mia Dolan is tragically real, vulnerable and beautiful, a word I use with zero reference to Miss Stone's physical appearance. Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian whines as a true jazz aficionado should, an inversion of the trope which normally would have his character be the female protagonist.
But what La La Land really calls to mind is the sadness of creativity. To wish, to want, to dream, to create is a calling, and not a career and in that lies its unlimited potential and its heart-breaking tragedy. The fact that for most of them—the poets, the artists, the songwriters, the singers, the authors—their art...our art, is shouting into a silent, cruel void. That success will be defined by the outside world, that personal relationships will never be for us as they are for others, that in the end, even happy endings are fleeting, a single possible scenario that will be tinged with the sadness of those foregone.
I seem to have lost the temperament to remember songs anymore and though I liked much of La La Land's soundtrack as it played on screen, I don't know that I could recall any of it a week from now. Which is not to say it is not good—it is. Justin Huritz does a fantastic job of the original songs and the camerawork and cinematography is striking even to a philistine like myself.
As the final scene draws to a conclusion, as Mia and Seb exchange a ghost of a smile, I could sense that Damian Chazelle was giving that knowing smile to us. To each and every one of us in the viewing audience, whether in grimy theatres or in cozy sofas at home, he was saying,
“I know. This is you, and this is me.”
And that, ultimately, is La La Land. It’s the Hollywood of ‘Top Hat’ and ‘Singing In the Rain’, of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard’, of bright boys and manic pixie dream girls. Is it trivial? Perhaps.
But it is enough. It is enough for us dreamers.