In honor of La La Land, we're presenting a week of articles inspired by the film. You can buy your tickets here!
Damien Chazelle seems to have a knack for taking the universal story of pursuing a dream to new heights. In Whiplash he created an intense thrill ride—out of band practice no less—by inviting us into Andrew Neimann's (Miles Teller) ambitious mind and exposing us to every painstaking beat of his journey. In La La Land the journey is much more nuanced and personal. Here Chazelle's main characters forge separate paths toward their respective dreams of owning a jazz club and becoming an actress. Only this time there's a lot more song and dance as their paths merge and they run headlong into self-doubt and the most familiar roadblock of all: love.
While Neimann seemed to have confidence in honing his natural talent, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), and especially Mia (Emma Stone), are weighed down by doubt in their abilities to achieve success. Like Neimann, Sebastian has initiative and confidence for days, yet he's hindered by a lack of money and a general disdain toward change. Meanwhile, Mia doesn't seem to believe she has what it takes to make it in Hollywood. Cue the music as the two meet and endeavor to balance their feelings for one another with their ambitions, which up until now, have always come first. From here the movie shines a light on the difficulties that exist when two impassioned individuals try to create a life together without allowing that togetherness to overshadow their personal desires. It also portrays the significance of having someone by your side that truly believes in and supports you, respecting your dreams enough to allow you the room you need to pursue them. La La Land tells a story of the sacrifices and compromises that must be made to make things work with someone you love. "Here's to the mess we make."
For Mia and Sebastian the mess comes in the form of the choices they face now that they’re concerned with more than just their own interests. Choices that lead them to question what it is they really want and what they're willing to sacrifice in order to get it. Staying together seems to lead them farther away from their dreams, in turn, leading them farther away from each other. Sebastian wants Mia to be proud of him, so joining a band to make money starts to take precedence over the integrity he once had for preserving the true essence of jazz. While he's busy selling out to stay afloat, it's through Mia that the movie explores how crippling self-doubt can really be, frustrating and discouraging her at every turn. Her story will be all too familiar to those who have learned the valuable lesson that doubt is a dreamer's worst enemy. It overpowers confidence and the belief in oneself that is paramount when it comes to creating something out of nothing or taking that big risk that could potentially change everything. The biggest trick doubt plays on the dreamer is convincing them they aren't worthy of their dream. Mia starts to believe this, allowing the knowledge that thousands of other people are after the same thing to convince her she should give up. It becomes a daily struggle for her to silence the nagging voice that keeps repeating, "Maybe I’m not good enough.” What Mia and so many others often forget is that only those who go after their dreams stand a chance of reaching them.
Andrew Neimann certainly went after his dream in Whiplash, so much so that I nearly gave him a standing ovation when the credits rolled. There's a solo performance by Emma Stone in La La Land that summons a similar overwhelming crescendo of emotion. In Chazelle’s hands even the smallest gestures become powerful due to the connections he creates leading up to them. I can't remember the last romantic movie I saw where the simple act of two people holding hands became such a passionate and heightened moment. These details resonate because they're presented in a way that reminds the audience what that first touch between lovers feels like. As viewers we're not just watching that moment, we're remembering it. It's that appeal to our personal memories that create these heightened moments. We care so deeply what becomes of Sebastian and Mia because we recognize a part of our own lives within their story.
While audiences will recognize many of the elements at work in La La Land from the musicals of the '40s and '50s, the way in which Chazelle has combined and updated the infectious sound and color palette of that period, alongside the classic elegance of the love story, makes it feel as if he's created an era entirely his own. Similar to Sebastian's beloved jazz, all the individual parts of La La Land build and crash together to create a familiar yet innovative tale of love and believing in your dreams. Chazelle has once again invited dreamers on a spellbinding journey, encouraging them to fight past every roadblock they encounter along the way. Whether that dream be as simple as putting pen to paper to tell a story that resonates with you, or as painstaking as climbing to the top of the highest mountain, La La Land endeavors to show us that while it may take hard work and bitter sacrifice to reach our destination, every choice along the way, including whether or not to keep going, is up to the dreamer.
You can, and should, buy tickets to see La La Land at the Alamo Drafthouse here.