It kind of sucks that movies come out, people talk about it for a while then it dies but doesn’t die. When La La Land (2016) came out I didn’t want to watch it. Too many people were talking about it, they weren’t saying anything bad, however. But that is why I didn’t go watch it in the first place. Last time I listened to a whole bunch of people when they said a movie was good it was for Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Everyone that weekend kept telling me that I had to go see it and that it was so good! Then when I sat through the movie, it was only OK.
I can’t say the same thing about this movie though. From my understanding, La La Land has a couple Oscars under its name and also almost won the best picture but Moonlight (2016) took its place. I didn’t want to like this movie as much as I did but it makes total
sense why I do.
La La Land (2016) was directed by Damien Chazelle staring Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) and Emma Stone (Mia). Mia and Sebastian both live in Los Angeles California and I love how the setting was introduced in the movie. Right from the beginning of the movie the characters go on by talking about the infamous LA traffic. They sing and dance letting us know this is not going to be some regular drama movie. It’s going to be a light-hearted musical, sorta. Mia is an aspiring actor while Sebastian is a Jazz musician and nobody appreciates his art, he is also very broke. Through a series of events, Mia and Sebastian constantly bump into each other and after a while, they start to like each other. I’m oversimplifying it but that is only because I want to get into why I like this movie.
The cinematography was beautiful! As the movie started I was already hooked. While everyone was sitting in traffic the camera gave life to the extras. THE EXTRAS! The camera gave life to the extras by zooming past their cars. While the camera is moving past we see different types of people listening and dancing to different types of music until we finally meet the girl in the yellow dress that leads us into the first song. I thought it was cool that Mia and Sebastian first meet in traffic. The way this ties in later on in the movie is amazing. Back to the cinematography, the use of lighting in this movie was so smart. When characters had their own solos or monologues all of the lights around them would go dark and a single spotlight (like on a stage) would shine on them emphasizing that the character is no longer on planet earth. My favorite example of this would be towards the end of the movie when Seb is playing the piano at his bar and it ties back to the beginning when he lost his job.
That leads me to the second reason why I liked the cinematography so much, the use of the Steadicam. Along with the lights and the wardrobe, the Steadicam made the movie seem like a dream. There were very few cuts which reminded me of the style of the
movie BirdMan (2014) since that movie was also about performing arts. I started to notice the steady cam more towards the beginning when Mia is refusing to go to the party with her friends. They sing and dance but the camera is another character it’self. The camera was moving and dancing with them. Going through the room in shots that seemed to just be one continuous take making it feel like we’re watching an actual Broadway musical.
The use of color and the Retro-Contemporary feel to the movie was refreshing. It was like chewing a stick of winterfresh gum. So often today do we see movies that are dark and gloomy and the colors are monochromatic. But this movie literally says fuck that. The colors pop and they make sure to also use every color under the sun. I also first noticed this in the beginning when Mia refuses to go to the party but then throws on the blue dress. The house the girls were staying in reminded me of the movie Hairspray and when they were dancing in the street all of the girls were wearing vibrant different colored dresses. When the movie starts they mentioned that the movie was being
displayed in Cinemascope as though the movie were coming from the 60s or something. It made sense because it matched with Sebastian’s character with his love for jazz, the dying and ancient art and the fact that Mia enjoyed the movie Casa Blanca as a kid. That movie came out in the 40s but still. The choice of doing all that, in the beginning, reinforces how old school our character really is even though they use IPads to get coffee.
I really enjoyed the characters. They felt very real, even (as I mentioned before) the extras. They all seemed like they had their own lives and if the movie were to just stop being about Mia and Sebastian it could easily just follow someone else and we would still care about the movie. I loved how they went about showing how often Mia went to auditions. She was always thinking about them even while she was at work. And Sebastian, he was my favorite character.
Sebastian had more depth than Mia in my opinion even though I do think that the balance between the two characters where beautiful. I like how Chazelle decided to follow Mia first and we get to get a glimpse of her life while she does things up until the scene where Sebastian gets fired. I love how while she is in her own world we hear music, but in the background, we also hear buzzing. Then the camera cuts back to the start of the movie when Sebastian is honking the horn at Mia then we follow him independently until we see both of them interact with each other at the bar. Both of the characters had something to take away from each other. They were both gaining from them being together. Mia, her confidence was getting better. Sebastian, his sense of judgment got better. When I say this I mean that Mia inspired him to want to actually take care of himself. After a while, he wasn’t as ok with the conditions he was living in as much as he was at the beginning of the movie when his sister came over to visit. He also didn’t want to meet anyone if they didn’t like jazz but Mia taught him to show her why it’s a beautiful thing. Both of the characters show dramatic character development throughout the movie. When it comes to characters though one thing that I wish the movie did a bit was flesh out the girls at the beginning of the movie and John Legend’s character. Like what happened to the band? Yeah, we can tell he’s not in it anymore but the Jazz club when Sebastian is approached he starts acting weird implying that Legend’s character did something to him in the past that didn’t have a positive lasting impression on him. So with that kind of set up, it would have been cool to see what happened to Seb because he signed a contract with the group. It seems like a lot got cut from that part because then it would make the movie seem like its only about Sebastian.
When I saw John Legend, however, I laughed a bit. The only reason why was because about two scenes before it there was a guy dancing with his girlfriend (also one of Sebastian’s friends) that looked kind of like Legend. While watching that part I thought to myself he kinda looked like John Legend. So when I saw him at the bar I laughed. I don’t know if Chazelle did that on purpose but one thing that I know he did on purpose was how similar Seb’s character was to Andrew from the movie Whiplash (2014). Chazelle also directed the movie Whiplash and I loved that movie. While watching La La Land I forgot who directed it but I kept thinking to myself that it reminds me of Whiplash and it makes sense why now.
Andrew, Seb, and Mia are all similar in the fact that they have such a deep love for their art that they are willing to struggle and go through hell to be successful. This was more apparent in Seb’s character but the theme was there. Working hard for what you want. I think Chazelle knew what he was doing because in the scene where Sebastian gets fired JK Simmons is his boss. The same JK Simmons from whiplash, the instructor from Shaffer Conservatory of Music. On top of that, he was giving Seb direction on what music to play with the same type of assholey way of talking. I don’t know if that’s a stretch but it had to have been a nod towards his last movie.
Speaking of last movies this movie is a complete contrast to how Whiplash was. Whiplash was dark and serious while this one was light and playful showing that this guy has range. Towards the end of the movie, it shows the lives of Sebastian and Mia 5 years into the future. Through that whole beautiful montage (where the cinematography is just fucking gorgeous the way the Steadicam travels from different setting to another while switching up lighting and changing key scenes in the movie) it shows the alternate life that could have been lived if Sebastian was to go to France with Mia, or if Mia had a larger audience at her show. It made me think about Whiplash.
When Mia ended up with Greg I liked how Chazelle made all the other men in Mia’s life seem 1 dimensional, including Mia’s baby daddy at the end of the movie. Sebastian was the guy you wanted her to be with. But at the same time, it wasn’t that good of an idea for her because they both ignored red flags that would later pop up in the relationship. Red flags that Andrew in whiplash was able to see before it happened. Sebastian was so in love with Jazz that there would be a point in time where Mia would begin to feel lonely. And from that, It would make her feel angry and upset and it happens. When Sebastian returns home for a little while from the tour Mia expresses how she doesn’t like how he won’t be home for so long. And she clearly states that she hadn’t thought it out.
Stepping back for a little bit, one thing that I liked about that scene was how dark and serious the lighting got. And once Sebastian hurt Mia with his words the alarm in the kitchen went off alerting to a fire where there is smoke. But going back to them splitting up La La Land almost reminded me of an alternate ending to Whiplash. What would have happened if Andrew decided that he would balance his love for Nicole with his love for be a successful Jazz Drummer?
One thing that I noticed and will point out is the first date scene at the museum. It was beautiful. But I also think that that was just a creative “Sex Scene”. It was like “Pleasure
Town” in Anchor Man (2004). That is when they fell in love with each other and Greg was no longer in the equation. One very important thing that I took from this movie is that life doesn’t stop. You have to move on and just keep going. Mia could have just decided to stay home and go back to school but Sebastian pushed her to be greater because,
“The world doesn’t need any more lawyers”. And Sebastian could have decided to stay in the band and be comfortable but that’s not really following his real dream. And they both could have stayed together. But the relationship had to end because they needed to go on a new journey. I didn’t even know the characters but it still hurt to see Mia with someone else even though they still loved each other.
LIFE GOES ON. KEEP DREAMING. KEEP LIVING.