La La Land (2016): The Love that Shines Brighter than the Dreams

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During my twenty-something years of life, I have never felt more consoled by a film than with La La Land. Anyone with a dream would have been moved by Emma Stone’s incredible performance during the final audition, but it hit me harder because I had been feeling especially lost with concerns for my future. I had just spent a couple nights going from feeling surprisingly confident about my talents and where I’m headed in my life to feeling utterly hopeless at the world that doesn’t seem to share my interests and at myself, who seemed so insignificant and powerless. La La Land was the remedy I needed right then and there. I know for sure that I’ll watch this film again and again and be differently inspired each time. So I can’t say that my appreciation for the film today is sufficient and everything that it deserves, but there are thoughts I would like to document for now.

 

I know that my judgement is probably clouded with my obsession for the idea that love fuels every human creation and is of utmost importance, but I have to say that this film, at its core, is about love. This I say to all the critics who claim that the film isn’t detailed nor fully realistic in portraying Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling)’s journey to accomplishing their dreams. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think those critics are missing the point, being caught up with the theme of the film and failing to see what’s being emphasized underneath.

Don’t get me wrong. Pursuing a dream and realizing it are important to me. Although I wish this isn’t always the case for my own sake, I am an idealist- I encourage myself to dream, get myself to ceaselessly work for it and believe that there is justice in the world. So, yes, I would have liked to see Mia staging her one-woman show and Seb setting up his jazz club from scratch. Such scenes would be the epitome of their efforts at making their dreams come true, and I would have connected with them better, as a persistent dreamer myself. However, the scenes in the film were sufficient to make me understand that the characters struggle within and without, but their devotions to their dreams keep them going and will get them to their dreams. Even without seeing the process of accomplishment, I remained drawn-in to the story and could even unknowingly hold the belief that they will see their dreams come true. Seeing the details of the process wasn’t important for me because I’ve seen everything I needed to before; and, to me, the scenes before are about love.

I think that the theme of love assumes as much importance as, or even more importance than, the theme of dream in La La Land. The most obvious sign for me in realizing this was acknowledging that I cried when Mia and Seb argue over the dinner table, with a similar sense of compassion that I felt when I cried during Mia’s audition. Underneath the hurtful words in that scene, I could read their caring intentions. Mia worries that Seb was losing sight of his dream from the Hollywood haze but fails to be frank for fear of hurting his pride, while Seb cannot say that he got into it for Mia, after overhearing her phone call with her parents where she explains to them his career and financial situation with difficulty. Above all, both of them want the other to be around. Seb wants Mia to escape her daily hassles and experience the wealth, excitement and relaxation that he can provide for her. Mia wants Seb to support her when it gets difficult to hold on, for he is the one that inspired her to trust her talents and venture. Now that I think about it, Mia’s love for her dream seems to outweigh her love for Seb, when Seb’s love for Mia seems to be greater than his love for his dream…

Regardless, love never stops to drive them to do better. They first fall in love as they see so much of themselves in each other: neglected artists who seem almost foolish in keeping their dreams, but with pride, personality and true love for their passion. How they fall in love is so subtle that some critics point this out as something forcefully installed to carry out the story. But doesn’t all things human seem random at times, only to turn out to be the result of a mixture of previous influences? Their love is realistic, natural and absolutely endearing. Once they become a couple, they truly recognize the other’s talent and end up falling in love with “what (the other person is) passionate about”. Seb gets Mia to like jazz and Mia makes Seb fall in love with her personality (which is what I believe to be an actor/actress’s “talent”). I guess, in the sense that Mia herself is art, it is possible for Seb to have fallen in love with her even more.

Knowing the other’s talent, they push each other; and they push themselves for their lover. To have a future with Mia and to be the man that he thinks she wants, Seb signs a contract with the band that doesn’t entirely share his style of music. Mia brings him back to his senses in the argument as he starts to stray away from his dream. She wishes to do well with her one-woman performance that Seb has cheered her on to do, but it fails to have a big audience. What seems more despairing for her is that Seb doesn’t show up, making her dramatic move back home completely understandable (which some critics have pointed out as being unharmonious with Mia’s character, when it does make sense as their love was that important for her). Then Seb comes back to let Mia know of her audition and supports her in person this time, which does end up getting her on the track to realizing her dream.

After Mia’s successful audition, they intuitively know that they will have to part ways. Instead of saying goodbye, they tell each other that they’ll always love the other. Compared to the scene where they argue, the development in how they handle their love as two artists striving to become who they are destined to be is impressive. There is no room for miscommunication nor any need to say much anymore, because they sincerely understand one another. They trust in the unconditional love and support that the other has for them, and understand that the other’s utmost wish for them is to accomplish their dreams. Their success in the very end proved for me that their love, which came to their lives to ignite a spark of light, transcends time and space. Thus, I came to the conclusion that love, indeed, is a more fundamental theme in the film.

 

Now that I’m done with my long long analysis of why and how I watched La La Land with a focus on “love”, I want to move on to some other aspects of the film that I personally connected with.

I’m not always an emotional person, but the very first scene, a no-cut tracking shot of performers on a highway in LA, brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of all the Uber drivers I met in LA who were aspiring screenwriters, actors and musicians. I’ve read reviews where people criticized the randomness of that first sequence, saying that it is an unnecessarily fancy performance; but it was more than a mere performance to me. It felt so real, having seen real people carrying on their lives with a smile, hoping to actualize their Hollywood dream one day. The fanciness of it brought more sorrow, because I could only imagine the effort the performers must have put in to get the scene to look so divine within a single take. I couldn’t help but think about all those actors and actresses whose names will pass me nevertheless.

A detail I loved about the film was its use of colors. I noticed how the (mostly female) underdogs of the industry are presented in bright colored clothes. Mia is seen in dresses of all the colors of the rainbow. Even in her café uniform, she dons a bright light blue scarf and/or a red tote. Then after she becomes a successful actress, she is seen in monotones, namely black and white. Another use of color in the film that I fell in love with and want to mention is the LA sky during sunset. It’s not my intention to rebut every criticism I’ve read online about this film, but I must say something about the comments that the colors in the film are inattentive of the characters’ emotions or the flow of the story, but always pastel, purple, pretty and pointless. My opinion is that this film is an homage to the people of Hollywood who overcome adversities to bring something true in this world, but also to Hollywood itself that once amazed its audience with its visual spectaculars. All of the shots are breathtakingly beautiful and, most notably, real. I’ve heard from a reliable source that the colors of the sky and all of the backgrounds weren’t edited, and the crew had to wait for the right moment to come during sunset to capture the perfect color. A message I can draw out from this particular aspect would be that there is authenticity in the beauty that Hollywood presents, and we mustn’t override the realness of it, be it its environment or its people.

I’m attaching pictures I took of the sky last year in LA. I had fallen in love with a lot of things in that city, but nothing surpassed my adoration for its sky during sunset. It’s something I hold dear to my heart and I just had to protect it.

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La La Land is a film that means so much to me. It picked me up when I was blinded by pessimism; and brought back memories of LA, with such passionate and warm-hearted people, and just incredibly beautiful in and of itself. I’m thankful, just entirely thankful.

“I trace it all back to then, her and the snow and the Seine. Smiling through it, she said she’d do it again.”

 

Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.