We all have our own La La Land. The colorful dream world, the prime destination of our wayward thoughts, our magical escape. Damien Chazelle’s film ‘La La Land’ is a colorful homage to the past, revitalizing the 60’s post-classical musicals with their positive outlook and follow-your-dreams dogma. But there is more to La La Land than a spellbinding visual scenery and an assortment of catchy musical numbers. La La Land is the story of an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist who inspire each other despite the world’s apparent dryness, unsuitable for the flourishing and nurturing of ‘pipe dreams’. Her, despite the lack of callbacks and the constant demotivation of being proven less interesting than take-out in the middle of an audition. And him despite a stream of unsatisfying mini-jobs playing pop hits at stuffy restaurants and pool parties because jazz is traditional and thus outmoded. What is in the surface a love story (and a witty and stirring love story, at that) is in its core an invocation to be true to ourselves. La La Land immerses us in a world very much like ours, where so-called ‘pipe dreams’ collide with pragmatic pillars of success and an onslaught of setbacks and rejections. It dismisses surrendering to the societal scaffolding that encourages appealing to the masses and instead foments action based on what appeals to us. Our La La Land does not have to remain in the crevice of our imaginations.
La La Land depicts interactions that coin our everyday lives, interactions whose premise we don’t agree with or where we feel all but comfortable. And yet we partake in them even though they provide no added value, even though they gnaw at our scars and possibly present us with a very bland image of what life is and could be. A prime example is the dinner Mia attends with Greg, a successful businessman, a figure that normally epitomizes the ideal boyfriend. The dinner takes place in an upscale restaurant that warrants formal attire, think wedding gowns cut knee-high and suits that could mask as tuxedos. The embodiment of class. The dinner is in the company of a couple that clearly belongs to Greg’s world of highbred culture and seeks to establish said fact through many references of trips to Europe and impressions of some unhygienic Chinese province.
How many a times have we endured such characters in real life? Those people that broadcast their cultural baggage like continuous pop-up advertisements. They never cease to promote their contribution and interaction with the ‘Less Fortunate,’ their White Savior Complex only succeeds in instantiating how far removed they are from understanding other communities. Their conversations range from the places they’ve been to, the people they’ve seen, the memorabilia they’ve obtained. And they expect you to be impressed, in the same way they expect you to have breathed the nicotine air swirling on the Eiffel Tower or to have a high-paying job to consider you successful and thus admirable.
And why do we partake in conversations with individuals who, what they retain in cash and private assets, they lack in depth and compassion? Individuals whose conversations make us feel unworldly and hollow, if not fed up and nauseated. Why do we bear those brutal dinners, gatherings, conversations? Because we feel obliged to? Because we believe we need to fit in and be accepted by those who will get us a coveted job or sign our pay check? Is that really what makes us happy? Or is that what we have brought ourselves to believe is what we want because it is what society admires and esteems? La La Land exhorts us to be true to ourselves and sidestep these situations. It urges us to follow what we truly believe in and do what makes us happy, even if selling hand-made bracelets on the streets does not exactly embody society’s notion of success. Success is doing what you love and reaping its benefits to the point where you are flying high on life.
From the onset, Sebastian wants to play Jazz. At one point, he finds himself playing for a vocalist, Keith, who says, “How are you going to be a revolutionary, if you’re such a traditionalist?” Sebastian, who at the beginning of the film is so obstinate on playing pure jazz at the cost of losing his only job, thus descends into what he initially despised. He joins a band whose modern twist on Jazz renders it an instant sensation appealing to a grand public, a ludicrous job playing music he doesn’t appreciate or even like. Mia asks him if he likes what he plays, and he responds by saying he finally has a job, he’s making money. Revolutionaries are known for inciting change. But is the praise of enacting such a change worth ‘revolutionizing’ the tradition that you love?
Wouldn’t it be lovely to forego the revered revolutionary title and not be a hypocrite to our dreams? Keith follows his appeal to revolution by telling Sebastian that he is “holding on to the past, but it is about the future.” Beautiful words, that in fact reference a key theme in the movie, nostalgia. Keith’s mistake, however, is that he is likening Jazz to the past. Jazz, however, is for Sebastian not merely an earmark of an epoch but a passion. And passions are timeless. Holding on to a passion that you can still embark on and develop is not holding onto the past. It is holding on to yourself. Once you do that, you aren’t stuck in the past but rather fully equipped to move forward and to do so willingly.
While La La La Land reawakens the past by reverting to the vibrant colors and costumes evocative of the 20th century, it exemplifies the importance and surprising ease of moving on. It means birthing a genuine smile of excitement after being rudely interrupted at an audition and subsequently drenched by spilled coffee. It means accepting the fact that circumstances have led you and the love of your life to lead separate and yet fulfilling lives. It means fostering expectations without anchoring ourselves onto obstacles or rejection. Along with its fomentation of inner aspirations, La La Land exhorts the idea that in life, despite a healthy fondness for the past, it is not excruciating nor difficult to move on. In fact, it is this ability to accept pain accompanying the end of beautiful periods in our lives that propels us to accept the future and continue to thrive. Thriving in the sense that we continue to do what we love, what moves us, what hardwires our brains and electrifies our every pore, unbarred by the societal concocted notion of success or by the happiness we could have led, had our decisions meandered elsewhere. There is indeed a beauty in nostalgia. But this beauty should not impede us from moving on.
Director Damien Chazelle himself summed it up beautifully with a few simple phrases at a backstage interview at the Golden Globes: It is “this idea that one does need to move forward. Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is not a place to live in. You should honor the past but to actually find a way to push that forward whether it is in how you love, or how you make movies, or how you make any art.”
La La Land is beautiful, not only in its scenery, but in the emotions and messages it diffuses. A message that foments smiling at the past without residing in nostalgia, dreaming and persevering despite obstacles and societal expectations. La La Land is truly a work of art, both beautiful and inspiring.
Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make. She captured feeling, sky with no ceiling, the sunset inside with rain. Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.
The pictures used in this article were, sadly, not take by me and I claim no ownership whatsoever.