Warning: mild spoilers for La La Land
With Oscar buzz swirling, La La Land is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. It’s Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s third film together, and it’s an ode to old Hollywood. It encompasses everything we’ve come to love about the pair: her charmingly awkward bluntness, his brooding stoicism, their inhuman attractiveness that makes them seemingly incompatible with anyone but each other. Despite the rave reviews of the cinematography, Emma Stone’s performance, and the film as a whole, La La Land is an imperfect movie. And that’s exactly why you should see it.
In case you were as unclear on the movie’s premise after watching the trailer as I was, here’s a quick recap. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a pianist whose dream is to open his own piano bar. The two repeatedly run into each other around LA before actually meeting when Sebastian all but stalks Mia at the coffee shop she works in on the WB lot. As you probably gathered from the only detail included in the trailer, the two fall in love, but their search for success starts to wear on their relationship. Oh, and it’s a musical.
I saw La La Land when it screened at the Virginia Film Festival last month, and about 20 minutes in I had a sinking feeling that I was going to hate it. Full disclosure, the beginning of the movie is strange. It’s happy-go-lucky in a way that makes you want to slap someone, and keeps you waiting for the record-scratch and “this isn’t how life really is” voiceover moment. The rest of the movie, thankfully, isn’t so rose-colored. Just because it’s a musical doesn’t mean life can’t be hard (hello, Moulin Rouge).
It’s not a secret that Emma Stone is a favorite for this year’s Best Actress Oscar for her performance in La La Land. This is absolutely deserved, but her performance is by no means flawless. Her voice isn’t jaw-droppingly fantastic, but her character’s peak, emotion-filled moment about two-thirds of the way through the film, which oddly also soundtracks the teaser, is haunting. Ryan Gosling’s equally okay voice, but unexpectedly impressive piano playing, also perfectly mirrors his character’s attempts at success. Their lives are the familiar tale of an actress and a musician struggling to make it in Hollywood, so flaws aren’t just warranted, they’re necessary.
While it’s well known that La La Land is a love story, it’s not so much about the love between two people as it is about the love between people trying to make it in Hollywood and the place itself. Between the tap dancing, the picturesque LA backgrounds, and the directorial decision to go full-on traditional Fred and Ginger musical, a nostalgia for the glory days of Hollywood is at the core of the film. The love story at the heart of the film is even more apparent when Mia and Sebastian’s individual thirst for success is what threatens to tear their relationship apart. By the end of the story whether or not Mia and Sebastian are able to salvage their relationship becomes less important than how their relationships with Hollywood evolve and if they’re able to achieve their dreams.
This may come as a surprise, but few people’s lives are perfect. If this is brand new information, congratulations. You’re one of few. Most movies seem to show the ideal life – everyone gets their dream job, the guy gets the girl, every day is a perfect hair day, you don’t sweat the entirety of your makeup off on your commute. Usually it’s nice to escape from our everyday lives and live in this perfect alternate reality, but sometimes it’s nice to see people have to overcome obstacles that we all face. It’s not unheard of for relationships to fall apart because the people in them had priorities that didn’t include the other person, and it’s refreshing and comforting to see that play out on screen. La La Land’s imperfections, both intentional and unintentional, show us that trying to achieve what we want is worthwhile, even if it doesn’t always workout the first time, and even if we don’t get everything we want at once. So, here’s to the fools who dream.
La La Land premieres in theaters nationwide December 8th.