Seb and Mia in La La Land portray a love story that stays true to the reality quotient of 21st century despite its old school romanticism, says Proma Sanyal.
When the Technicolor world of music and machine took over the screen on a certain December evening, it took less than a minute for me to readily want to live in each scene that played before my eyes for the next two hours. The busy LA highway breaking into the beauty that ‘Another Day of Sun’ was, was an instant promise to make you smile and tap your feet to every moment that would follow. For a little bit, I was not sure what I was enjoying the most; the immensely upbeat music, the wonderfully synchronised dancing, the splashes of brightly coloured clothes on good looking people or was it simply the fact that we were welcomed into La la land by an Indian face? Yes, within the first five minutes, the movie gives you all these reasons to already fall in love with it and you have not even been introduced to the main characters yet. However, amidst all the cheeriness that the song stands for, if one manages to pay the slightest attention to the lyrics that these tunes bear, they represent not happiness but the story of struggle. The song represents the dreams of thousands of artists who dare to dream and wander into the world in search of being discovered and being acknowledged for their art. That is, in short, the story of Mia and Sebastian, two brave dreamers aching to be found.
However, amidst all the cheeriness that the song stands for, if one manages to pay the slightest attention to the lyrics that these tunes bear, they represent not happiness but the story of struggle.
The success of La La Land is hardly breaking news to anyone who is not living under a rock, especially after their overwhelming haul at the Golden Globes. Therefore, it is only natural the points of criticism would surely stand out from among all the praises that range from pure “fangirling” to objective critical appreciation. What surprised me immensely was the disapproval on the ground of the film being an unoriginal one. I found this rather amusing as one of the many reasons for which La La Land has come to have a certain degree of importance in my life is its originality. Of course, the film does remind you of a number of our favourite musicals of the 20th century but not for once does it come off as a rip off. When Mia and Sebastian embark on their little stroll on that certain wonderfully wasted lit up night, there were moments when Ryan Gosling’s twirling around a lamppost sent across a wave of Singin’ in the Rain nostalgia. Similarly only a few minutes later, when the duo dazzle us with their tap dancing skills with the city spread below them, I instinctively thought of a London rooftop and a dozen or so chimney-sweeps prancing around Mary Poppins and Bert. La La land, at some point reminds you of all your favourite musicals, while remaining original all along. For me, the film is essentially a heart-warming tribute to all the geniuses who helped pave the path that would be Mia and Sebastian’s journey. It embraces several previously used tropes (such as initial bickering that blossoms into romance) but it continually pulls together these ideas to weave together a story that is firmly rooted in reality in spite of its fairy-tale appearance.
La La Land’s perfection stands on several factors, one of which is the near perfect sketch of the two main characters, the Jazz snob Sebastian and the waiting for a big break, Mia. Our first few trysts with Sebastian make him come across as a struggling musician who has taken it upon himself to preserve jazz in its pure state. The frustration of his bursting passion for jazz easily transpires from the screen to your own heart and soul when we see him first bickering with his sister and later when we see him being forced to play nothing beyond popular Christmas jingles in dimly lit restaurants. Similarly, when we meet Mia for the first time, she is making her way to one of many auditions that end in rejection. From the instance that is shown to us, her rejection is not the result of her poor performance but pure bad luck. Once again, the frustration of Mia, the struggling actor becomes a frustration that you end up empathising with.
Once we meet them together, the film takes off on a different tangent altogether and we see two broken people helping each other find their way back into their path of passion. We see Sebastian patiently listening to and appreciating Mia’s self-written script. We also see Mia designing a logo for Sebastian’s life-long dream of a jazz bar. We even hear her talk Sebastian up to her mother, in support of his career. It seems to be a little too perfect at one point; they sing, they dance, they make love and they support each other build their dreams into reality. This is where the fairy-tale takes a pause and lets us have a glimpse into problems that are also relatable on every level. Soon, Sebastian gets too busy for Mia and we see him expecting her to make changes in her life in order to continue their relationship. He asks her to travel with him and rehearse for her own play on the road and we see him not turn up for the play on its opening night because of his own photo-shoot. Like in the case of most couples, we witness how no matter how much in love a man is with his girl; he sees his career to be more important than that of the girl’s.
Once the rough patch of Seb and Mia’s relationship is done with, we see the two sharing the same park bench where they voiced their very strong opinions about disliking each other, only this time we watch them declare their love for each while realising that they must go their own ways in order to fulfil their dreams.
Having said that, instead of dwelling on how Sebastian was beginning to take Mia for granted, I’d much rather dwell on how both of them, in very different ways, were working towards achieving their goals. Mia, having auditioned for six years with no success, decides to stop depending on chance encounters and stages her own play, with only herself as a character and invites casting directors to judge for themselves. On the other hand, Seb gives in to popular culture and plays music that he despises, in order to make a name and fortune for himself for his dream jazz bar to open someday. We see them both succeeding. Most importantly, Seb and Mia portray a love story that stays true to the reality quotient of 21st century despite its old school romanticism. Once the rough patch of Seb and Mia’s relationship is done with, we see the two sharing the same park bench where they voiced their very strong opinions about disliking each other, only this time we watch them declare their love for each while realising that they must go their own ways in order to fulfil their dreams. That is the way reality works, and also the path a healthy love story ought to take- one in which love should let the individuals grow and not limit themselves which eventually leads to bitterness.
From the planetarium theme to the epilogue, La La Land could never reach this level of magnificence without the flawlessly perfect use of music. In every scene, you seem to actually feel the rhythm and the tunes actually flow through you as they weave around Mia and Sebastian in the most perfect manner possible.
It is probably quite apparent that I have been delaying the topic of music for long and, frankly, the reason behind it is that I do not find myself adequately equipped to describe how truly beautiful each and every musical number in La La Land is. Another Day of Sun was a promise enough that whatever that would follow could not be much of a disappointment even if it tried. From the bright summer day of the first song and the gorgeous montage of champagne and quintessential LA party life in Someone in the Crowd, to the soothing and melody of City of Stars, you cannot stop yourself from swimming deeper into them. From the planetarium theme to the epilogue, La La Land could never reach this level of magnificence without the flawlessly perfect use of music. In every scene, you seem to actually feel the rhythm and the tunes actually flow through you as they weave around Mia and Sebastian in the most perfect manner possible. However, the true height of perfection in the music of La La Land is actually achieved when Mia takes the stage to sing Fools Who Dream. Not only does Emma Stone steal the show with a heart wrenching and touching performance, she also uses this opportunity to bring out the character of Mia, for who she really is. Until then, Mia’s talent had somewhat been overshadowed by the number of times we watch Sebastian perform. We never get to see Mia as an actor but for the few glimpses of her at auditions, none of which last for too long. With this song, Mia brings out all the struggles, emotions and plunges that she takes as a dreamer who refuses to be scared of her foolish messy heart and she leaves the audience slightly overwhelmed.
Lastly, let’s talk about the ending. I have lost count of the number of times I have been on the verge of loving a well told love story only to be disappointed by the way it ends. I have never been able to grasp the necessity of a “happily ever after” ending. While I understand that making two former lovers unite in the end is supposed to make us happy, I find it extremely scary that these stories, in not so many words, tell us that we can never find love again, having lost it once. La La land is a breath of fresh air in this context as for once, a love story which is so very old school at times, gives the characters a second chance at love. Mia’s “what if” moment, on entering Sebastian’s bar where she visualises an entire other life which she spends with Sebastian is one of the most beautiful moments of the movie. Yet, not for once does it make us feel that she is unhappy with the life that she has, with another man and a child. Sebastian, too, makes a life for himself which does not seem to be going too badly. While the two do not directly speak to each other, all that needed to be said was said. On seeing Mia in the crowd, Sebastian plays what is known to us as “Mia and Sebastian’s theme” and with each note seems to be screaming out all the good moments, shared or could have been shared between the two. This was Sebastian’s acknowledgment of Mia’s presence in the room. Similarly, when Mia stops while on her way out, turns and the two smile at each other, Mia sends out her own acknowledgment and their story reaches a full circle. Sebastian continues playing his set while Mia walks away with her husband. With no words spoken, everything is said.
La La land seemed to me a movie for not just dreamers but for everyone. For dreamers who want to escape, the film is the perfect recipe to do so, with its perfect utopian getaway setting. For realists, there is struggle of the characters in their personal as well as their personal lives, and there can never be enough stress on how realistic the ending of the movie is.
Once in a while, a piece of art comes along that is too overwhelming to let you express it. La La Land is one such piece of art. The number of things I wanted to talk about and what I eventually could churn out of my system have a wide gap between them. La La land seemed to me a movie for not just dreamers but for everyone. For dreamers who want to escape, the film is the perfect recipe to do so, with its perfect utopian getaway setting. For realists, there is struggle of the characters in their personal as well as their personal lives, and there can never be enough stress on how realistic the ending of the movie is. For viewers who simply want to sit back and have a good time, with not much thinking involved, you have a number of exceptionally catchy songs coupled with immensely enjoyable dance moves, all performed by rather handsome men and women, All in all, I fail to see how La La Land could fail to lift any one off the ground and not open their world to send it reeling.
Image via www.indiewire.com