In honor of La La Land, we're presenting a week of articles inspired by the film. You can buy your tickets here!
My friends and I, we've had what you might call a "turbulent year".
There've been setbacks on every conceivable front - professional, personal, as a country. We've all been through the goddamn wringer. And without getting too personal about it, I've had a real humdinger of a year myself, one that's left me questioning aspects of my life that I've long considered unassailable.
There can be no doubt that these questions are an unfortunate side effect of aging. You hit a certain point in adulthood and decide you're ready to settle down - to leave your rowdier, more reckless, more starry-eyed self behind - and one day you wake up and find yourself wondering if you were really ready to pull that trigger. What if, in a certain moment, you'd said "Yes" instead of "No"? What if you hadn't walked into that particular bar on that particular night? What if you'd found the bravery necessary to take that leap of faith? Where would you be now? And would you be better off, or worse? These are haunting things to consider, and yet - even though asking these questions does us absolutely no good - we all insist on asking them.
La La Land confronts these questions head on, and the most magical thing about Damien Chazelle's film - a film filled with more genuine moments of movie magic than every summer blockbuster I saw this year combined - is that it made me feel better for having asked them. Seeing La La Land allowed me to let go of some really stupid stuff, tying up emotional loose ends and providing closure in areas I'd long since written off as lost causes. Your mileage may vary, but for me, seeing La La Land was a no-shit cathartic experience.
La La Land tells the story of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone, in what has to be the most charming performance of an already uncommonly charming career), two Los Angeles-based dreamers who have stalled out on their way to achieving their dreams. Mia's a barista working on the Warner Bros. lot, but really she's an aspiring actress suffering through one humiliating audition after another. Sebastian's a wildly talented jazz pianist, but his commitment to the genre in its purest form has held him back from meeting his real goal: opening his own jazz club (preferably in the same location where some unthinkable asshole has opened a "Samba and Tapas" bar).
Mia and Sebastian cross paths a number of times on their way to falling in love, and (in classic, old Hollywood style), they bristle at one another through their first few encounters. He blows her off, she embarrasses him at a party - they find each other kind of annoying! But eventually their verbal sparring turns playful, less antagonistic. Some of you have learned, as I have, that if you spar with anyone like that for long enough, the inevitable will occur: infatuation sets in ... and infatuation's just a hop, skip and a jump away from love.
Which brings us to the tragedy of chemistry.
Without getting too far into spoiler territory, La La Land is telling a very specific kind of love story, the type we have rarely seen onscreen: it's a love story about two people who were meant to inspire one another, not to spend the rest of their lives together. They share the kind of unreal chemistry that has all the hallmarks of an all-timer romance waiting to happen, so of course they misunderstand what destiny is trying to tell them. With some distance, they come to understand the purpose they were meant to play in one another's lives, but that doesn't erase the heartbreak in the moment (as life has taught many of us, nothing feels as cruel or unfair as loving someone who you know you won't go the distance with).
Tell me you haven't met someone like this. Tell me you haven't had someone wander into your life, casually upend things, and leave you wondering what the hell you're supposed to do next. The wise thing to do is to absorb that person's impact as a net positive, to embrace the inspiration they provided you with while understanding that they're not necessarily your soul mate. That will always be a bitter pill to swallow, but - in a lot of ways - this is the most important kind of person you'll ever meet. These are the people, as La La Land tells us (during "Someone In The Crowd", one of its early, showstopper musical numbers) who are there to "lift us off the ground" and take us "where we need to go".
That Damien Chazelle made a movie centered around this painful truth is, quite frankly, incredible; this is, again, not a universal truth we often see depicted onscreen. But that he delivered it in the form of a crowd-pleasing, visually-spectacular musical (one that's often very, very funny) is flat-out miraculous. I walked out of La La Land with my heart soaring in my chest, drunk on the imagery Chazelle presented and both healed and humbled by the lesson at the heart of it all. This is visionary, ballsy filmmaking, some of the best that we've seen all year, and I am grateful to have had it come into my life so that I could (re)learn a thing or two.
La La Land opens in limited release this weekend. You should absolutely seek it out and experience it as soon as humanly possible. It may just relieve you of some serious emotional baggage.
You can, and should, buy tickets to see La La Land at the Alamo Drafthouse here.