Warning: Spoilers ahead, read at your own discretion.
A tug on your heartstrings—the story of love, music and dreams.
Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) live a harmonic life filled with jazz and romantic dates while chasing separate dreams in the eclectic city of Los Angeles. The film feeds you all the right parts of a romantic comedy, until real life starts pounding on the door.
Mia, a struggling actress, escapes in between her job as a barista to attend auditions where she lets her talents dissipate in a sea of other actresses she feels she can’t compete with. This self-doubt inhibits her until Sebastian’s support and encouragement motivates her to write a one woman play. It was a risky decision but Mia decides to move forward with investing money into the play. Although there’s definitely admiration for her ambitions, there’s an uneasy feeling as you’re uncertain about the response to her play.
Sebastian, a jazz lover, devotes his time to practicing piano while playing gigs at the local club, ‘The Lighthouse Cafe,’ to get by. His dream is to preserve the rich jazz history at the ‘Van Beek,’ that has been reopened as a “samba and tapas” place, by opening his own club in its place. He gives up his dream temporarily to join a newly formed band by an old friend, Keith (John Legend), that plays a contemporary mix of pop, edm and jazz.
All throughout the movie, you may be wondering whether Gosling is really playing the piano. He has played the piano for other roles, but nothing to the extent of the demanding scripts in “La La Land.” His effort and dedication to prepare for the role shone through his outstanding performance and embodiment of the character. Gosling reportedly practiced for two-hours every day, six days a week, for three months. He said, “It was really one of the most fulfilling pre-production periods I’ve ever had.” The actor proved his talents by filming without a double. Gosling appears to be a natural as his hands flowed across the keyboard in a seamless stream of rhythmic sublimity.
Everything seems to be moving fairly cheerily along until the curtains open to a half empty theatre at Mia’s play and Sebastian realises he doesn’t actually like the music he’s playing in the band. A fight ensues between the lovebirds over dinner as Sebastian reveals he only joined the band because he overheard Mia talking on the phone about him not having a stable job. Heat and tension builds up as Mia refutes his argument until smoke literally arises from the oven and Mia departs, leaving Sebastian with a very overcooked meal.
Their lives gradually drift apart after Mia returns to her hometown and Sebastian goes on tour with the band. Roles are turned when Sebastian receives a call from a casting director trying to reach Mia about an audition for a new movie. Turns out, one audience member at Mia’s play was a famous casting director. This news brings you to the edge of your seat as the future starts to look brighter for Mia, and this moment marks a turning point in her career.
The story is seemingly separated by the changing of seasons, but in a city unaffected by the harshness of cold weather, the irony of the disjointed scenes adds to the fluidity of the sequence of jarring events—allowing you to lose a sense of passing time and completely become absorbed in the character’s lives.
Fast forward five years, Mia has a husband, a young child, and is a successful actress with her face on glossy billboards. While, Sebastian, apparently single, has opened up his own jazz club called ‘Seb’s’ from a name Mia suggested years back. Mia walks into ‘Seb’s’ unknowingly one night with her husband and catches Sebastian’s eye from the audience.
In the moment of tension, you can almost feel the chemistry between the characters and there’s a spark of hope that they can somehow reconnect again and make-up for lost time. However, the writers don’t grant you that satisfaction.
Instead, the film time lapses to show an imagined alternative story of Mia and Sebastian’s life together. You become absorbed in the unfolding of their fairytale story that could have been. But in reality, Mia makes the decision to leave the club with her husband after one song. She seemed to realise that her time with Sebastian had already been over and they are both happy with their lives now. Before she walks out the door, she turns back and smiles at Sebastian, who nods back understandingly. The perfect subtle ending to an otherwise overwhelmingly powerful film.
It might not be the idealistic romantic ending you’d expect but it recognized their mutual respect for each other’s successful careers. They wouldn’t have achieved their dreams had sacrifices not been made and the most romantic gesture they did for each other was to let the other chase their ambitions without ties or regret.
Stone and Gosling, the star studded pair, stunned in their performance of unexpectedly delightful songs in duets of delicate and sultry voices, accompanied by lively tap dance routines. Their acting, the beautifully designed sets, costume and just the right amount of dramatic lighting made this film uncomparable to any other musical film of the year.
If you have yet to watch the riveting story, prepare to immerse your emotions in light hearted comedy, intense drama, colliding conflicts and a whirlwind of music and dance. After the film, you’ll leave slightly teary eyed hoping for a romance like Mia and Sebastian’s. Even if it never lasts, life has a funny way of writing its own lines for everyone’s script, like the way each instrument in a jazz ensemble plays solo lines across a shared harmonic progression, creating a rhythmic harmony in a wonderfully unsuspecting way.
Header image courtesy of IMBD, Photo by Dale Robinette.