La La Land has been sent by the musical theatre gods to satisfy our cravings for a love story told to music. Set in the grunginess of LA, our leading man and woman are real people with real problems. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play typical, average people, hoping to break through into the arts scene of Los Angeles. We meet them in the normal; a traffic jam on a SoCal freeway. This is no ordinary commute, but serves as the stage for a cheery, sunny opening number. It encapsulates the paradox that is LA; thousands of bright eyed, free spirit dream seekers gridlocked by self imposed importance and busyness (but let’s not get into that here). Throughout the film we can feel industrial LA, but it has been warmed by the glow of stage lights. We are invited to see our modern world through the lense of the great movie musicals of the past.
Our leading man, Ryan Gosling, dreams of reviving the Golden Age of jazz; he works to reopen a famous club, all the while lamenting the death of the genre. Emma Stone’s character is a starving actress looking for her big break. While Gosling and Stone are not Broadway caliber singers and dancers, they possess charm and chemistry to pull us into their world. The two fall in love and push one another on in pursuit of their dreams. They are swept away into the stars, experiencing the bright and beautiful city. Eventually they are forced to pursue their own paths, as each passion proves all consuming.
This film offers many references to well loved movie musicals. Like a Singing in the Rain or Oklahoma!, a character’s dream or nightmare is played out in a surreal dance, with fantastical sets and people. An alternate ending is offered through a dream sequence that gives the audience a chance to dream about what could have been with this couple.
The beauty of a movie like this is similar to that of a TV musical, which you can read about here. This film brings the musical to a modern audience. Stone and Gosling captivate our hearts and allow us to escape into a dream world for 90 minutes. When we leave the theatre, we have a bit more joy and hope. I think a great musical shows us truths about our lives, but offer us a sunny twist to them. We resonate with the lulling ballads, and our spirits are lifted by the sweeping dance breaks. La La Land shows us a new way to approach our world: the fast paced, never quitting, grungy world. Stories, music, and dance are a powerful way to bring us to see joy in our lives.
The dreams of this young couple are reminiscent of many millennials today. We are a generation that seeks authenticity and something real in this digital and illusive age. We want to break away from a typical 9-5, and instead pursue our passions. Our generation is one of idealism, optimism, and of course, dreams. We want to have our gluten free cake and eat it too. This film exemplifies the power of these dreams and captures the spirit of our generation, showing the beauty, musicality, and movement of our lives.