La La Land is like the perfect dream for every romantic: peace, love and music. This idyll is only interrupted by one thing: imperfect reality.
The film starts in a traffic jam on a motorway in Los Angeles, the city that is also called “La La Land”, where the first dance and singing performance takes place. A young woman starts talking to herself about her boyfriend and the things she has left behind to achieve success in Los Angeles. The monologue develops into a song, she gets out of her car and more and more people join in with her performance. In this scene, the two protagonists Mia and Sebastian, played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, meet for the first time. He hoots at her in anger and she answers with her middle finger. Not the best start, but love takes time.
The next time they meet is at a party in Los Angeles, where he is playing keyboard in a cover band. When the party ends, they walk back to their cars together and an intimate but funny scene occurs, thanks to the charm coupled with sarcasm of the main actors. Director Damien Chazelle has created a film which enables the audience to travel back in time to a forgotten era, that in which Westside Story and the French musicals by Jacques Demy were created. Sebastian is a passionate jazz pianist who adores legends like Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. He drives a vintage car with a cassette recorder in it. Mia wants to become an actress and works in a coffee shop at the Warner Bros. studios, directly across from the set where Casablanca was filmed. Their first date takes place in an old fashioned cinema, where they watch Rebel without a Cause with James Dean, following a visit to the Griffith Observatory and a waltz among stars and planets. They fall in love and for a short period of time everything seems perfect.
But as is the case eventually for every couple in love, reality catches up with them. Sebastian tries to find a job in order to have a safe income. He gives up his dream of owning a jazz club and accepts the offer of an old friend, played by John Legend, to become the keyboarder in a band that plays a new style of jazz which he accepts but does not love. He becomes a successful musician, while Mia runs unsuccessfully from casting to casting. She decides to write a one woman solo project, which flops. She feels ashamed and humiliated. As Sebastian says: “That’s L.A.” – unforgiving and ignorant. After this turning point, the story is about business, success and compromises.
The first impression of the film is “you get what you expect”. Music, dancers and a prospective romance. But it is not just that. It is a lot more. Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds are not professional musical artists but that does not matter. This is the third time they have appeared on screen as a couple – they obviously harmonise perfectly together. They play their characters with passion and charisma. The camera perspective paired with the music produced by composer Justin Hurwitz underlines every scene in the right way. The music switches from a musical-style number accompanied by a big band to a soft radio melody captured cleverly by director of photography Linus Sandgren, who manages to draw the audience right into the film, taking them with him on a journey of doubt, despair, ambition and romance.
But the film is not just romantic. It is about young people chasing their dreams, the compromises they have to live with and the sacrifices they have to make. A career can last longer than love may do. In the end the audience gets an insight into what could have been if romance and not career had won the battle, and Emma Stone singing “Cheers to the ones who dream” leaves everyone thinking about their own life decisions, relationships, and dreams.