‘La La Land’ pays homage to great musicals of the past
After watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” during Christmas, I discovered a newfound love for movies of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and I made watching movies released in these years on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 list my new year’s resolution.
Starting with some of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies such as “Psycho” (1960) and “Rear Window” (1954) and moving on to great romances like “Casablanca” (1942) and “An Affair to Remember,” (1957) I was reminded that “fundamentals still apply.”
The musical tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), residents of Los Angeles who are chasing their dreams. Auditioning for as many shows as she can, Mia hopes to become an actress and Sebastian, a passionate piano player, wants to find his niche playing jazz.
You probably remember Stone from “The Help” (2011) and Gosling from “The Notebook” (2004).
Damien Chazelle wrote and directed the musical, and Justin Hurwitz composed the music with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
“La La Land,” with its nostalgic scenes, music and cinematographic style, is a throwback to musicals of the 1940s and 1950s.
One of the earliest scenes shows Mia’s room covered with retro posters, one of which is of Ingrid Bergman.
Many scenes remind viewers of “Casablanca.” Just like in that film Mia and Sebastian have a melody, “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme.” Beautiful and timeless, but sad at the same time, the theme from the beginning hints at a “fairytale” ending that is not to be.
The final scene of the movie depicts Mia going to a club – Sebastian’s club – where he plays their melody, just like in “Casablanca.” They will love each other forever, without being able to share that love with each other. Sebastian ends up alone but satisfied because Mia is happy.
Mia and Sebastian remind viewers of Nicolo (Cary Grant) and Terry (Deborah Kerr) of “An Affair to Remember.” Each is an artist – Nicolo is a painter and Terry is a singer – with a chemistry that sparks between them from the first time they see each other.
Scenes of “La La Land” also remind viewers of “Swing Time” (1936) and in one of the scenes the two are watching “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955).
Sebastian lives for music, jazz specifically, and his passion makes Mia, who hates jazz at the beginning, fall in love with the style. One of the composers he’s influenced by is George Gershwin, who composed the music for “An American in Paris.” Sebastian sees jazz dying and is determined to not “let it die on his watch.” Sebastian is talking to Mia as though jazz is living and breathing, explaining that jazz came to life in New Orleans in late 19th century and lets people communicate through music, improvising and making the tunes new every time. He speaks as though jazz has a soul.
The music of “La La Land” is memorable and emotion-provoking. “City of Stars” and “Audition” are two of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. Both songs have been nominated for the 2017 Academy Awards.
One of the themes Chazelle delves into is juxtaposition – between old and new, tradition and progress, love and sacrifice, following dreams
and being realistic.
The protagonists must also choose between following their dreams and having a job. Mia loves Sebastian because he follows his dream and is passionate about jazz, but that means no job for a long time. He overhears her on the phone that she wishes he had a steady job, so he gets one. He joins a band performing popular music, which takes away from Sebastian what Mia loves about him – his passion and staying true to who he is.
The movie also delves into the life choices we make and how every action we take defines our future.
The musical begins with a traffic scene, where the paths of Mia and Sebastian cross for the first time, and, toward the end, we see a traffic scene again. Five years after Mia and Sebastian separated, Mia is with her husband (not Sebastian), with whom she has a daughter. Because of the traffic, they change their plans for the night and take a different exit. They end up at a jazz club – Sebastian’s jazz club. He sees Mia and takes to the stage to play their theme song. While she is listening, she (or he) imagines what could have been. When she first met Sebastian, she wanted to speak to him, but he ignored her. In the dream, he kisses her, instead of ignoring her. When she produced her first play, Sebastian didn’t attend. In the dream, he does. In the dream, they stay together and have a daughter. If only things had happened this way. But they didn’t.
At this year’s Golden Globe Awards, the film won seven awards, setting a record for the most awards won by a single film. The musical has also been nominated for 14 Academy Awards.
Elena Cawley may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.