I have a confession… Since ‘La La Land’ screened at the ‘Toronto International Film Festival’ and Damien Chazelle was declared by New York City film critic David Elrich as ‘Jacques Demy for the digital age’, I have been reacting with a tirade of unjustifiable resentment. I have defrocked the film to my contemporaries, referring it solely as ‘Blah Blah Bland’ and renounced Chazelle as a lackey who plainly viewed the musicals of Demy, Donen and Minelli on ‘Turner Classic Movies’ one lazy Sunday afternoon and determined that he too could direct a musical of fervency and melancholy. These misguided preconceptions formed on one hyperbolic acclamation from a critic with whom I have dissenting opinions and the overexposure of the soundtrack by objectionable youths who cavort while ‘Somewhere in the Crowd’ plays over their Uber drivers speaker on the way to the nightclub. After viewing the film however, I’d like to apologize for my erroneous conjecture as there is more to the film than meets the eye.
The opening sequences of ‘La La Land’ overtly establishes an atmosphere of nostalgia as Chazelle memorializes his cinematic guardian angel Jacques Demy specifically his 1964 operatic musical ‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg’. He applies Demy’s archetypal kaleidoscopic interiors and seasonal title cards and employs them as stepping stones to compose his own singular symphonic fantasy of cynicism. Each musical cue from the ‘Young Girls of Rochefort’-esque ‘Another Day of Sun’ to the ‘American in Paris’ influenced ‘Epilogue’ define the subjective and objective reality in which Mia [Stone] and Sebastian [Gosling] wander dispiritedly.
The audience are introduced to Chazelle’s Walter Mitty’s during a confrontation of impatience on the highway after the first musical number. They perform a brief skit that resembles how ‘The Philadelphia Story[ies]’ Dexter Haven [Cary Grant] would react if Tracy Lord [Katherine Hepburn] cut him off on the freeway. Chazelle commences an intersecting narrative, revealing the humdrum routine of his characters in their futile pursuits to become revered artists. Initially Mia and Sebastian loathe each other, however in the tradition of Old Hollywood they descend into wistful romance during the evocative ‘A Lovely Night’ sequence. The couple commit to far-flung faux romanticisms and grandiose gestures isolated from the objective reality – Mia obscures the view of the projector during ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ and confesses her adoration to Sebastian through silence and a yearning gaze. The apex of this fabrication, is their slow dance at the Observatory, eclipsing tangibility as they displace gravity and waltz amongst the cosmos, entering their idealized Los Angeles. A utopian location of grandeur and quixotic elegance that recognizes the unweary creators. The gambol amid the macrocosm, entices the audience to consider that Mia and Sebastian will accomplish their vocational and relationship desires.
The hyper-rhapsodized reality and joyous rapture of the first act arrives at an impetuous standstill as the musical elements lay dormant and the character’s behaviours begin to penetrate realism. Sebastian becomes entangled in the distressing objective reality, postponing his dreams of singlehandedly reviving jazz to secure material abundance. Mia also experiences a spiritual crisis, reconsidering her own self-worth as an actress, after she encounters ruthless criticism on her one woman show. The pair separate and are reunited again in the ‘5 Years Later – Epilogue’.
Despite a personal hostility towards postscripts in cinema, the epilogue to ‘La La Land’ subverts cliché’s of the genre. Mia and Sebastian’s dream become realized and their narratives intersect again. Mia, now a married starlet encounters Sebastian at his club and beholds him with a desirous gaze as he performs a medley of the films soundtrack. Chazelle allows the audience a brief glimpse of what could have been between the estranged lovers had they not separated. They once again enter the realm of subjective reality and faux romanticism, whirling in the macrocosms, and viewing Super 8 reels of their professionally and romantically fulfilled existence. Mia and Sebastian don’t get the conventional conclusion as Chazelle opts for realism, apprising the audience that while the couple shaped each other’s creative gifts, they were simply not meant to spent their lives together. This sorrowful finale serves as a misanthropic reminder to the target millennial generation that they often have to compromise between their artistic and romantic pursuits.
Afterword: While I consider La La Land a slightly above average film, I continue to maintain that it could have been a masterwork if it had been directed by Whit Stillman and centred on Mia’s Yuppie roommates or her high society boyfriend Greg.