La La Land- A symphony for love, life, and the impossible microcosm of the creative arts (contains spoilers)

Hi there!

Long time, no see. Uni is crazy, in a word, and finding the time to blog is…challenging, to say the least.

I’m going to join the presumably legions of bloggers to write a review for the much-hyped La La Land. I went to see it last weekend with my mother, whose opinions of it I will also share because I think they’re worthwhile. I’ve also shopped around for the more derisive and derogatory reviews, as I think it’s more revealing to see what critics disliked rather than the gushing that’s coming from the mainstream.

Admittedly, when I first watched the trailer, I wondered aloud what the actual content of the film was, and truth be told, there isn’t a huge amount thats revolutionary. It’s a colourful spectacular love story told against a stunning backdrop, and it’s an entertaining and accessible watch, which is one of the key purposes of art. It means something, and just because it’s lighthearted doesn’t invalidate it. Escapism is still art, and I’d like to emphasise this to those who thought that just because it’s not as serious it shouldn’t be an Oscar contender for some reason.

The film appealed to me for obvious reasons- I am, first and foremost, and actor, dahling. I am a huge luvvie and an artiste, and there was a story about my profession! I got excited! And it was truthful, from my experience anyway- I might not live in La La Land, but I relate to the endless unsuccessful auditions, the constant rejection, and I saw my future outlined in Mia’s coffee apron.

My mum pointed out it was very ‘Singing in the Rain’-esque, which was a main feature of the film. The style nostalgically harks back to a bygone era of musical films, but with all of the technicolour that modern technology can offer. It was uplifting, and jazzy, and made me smile.

A couple of criticisms of it I felt were entirely unfounded: one critic questioned the viability of Mia writing a play about herself (and why ever not?); cited her silence at the dinner date with her boring boyfriend as a suggestion she has no personality; and criticised Seb’s reluctance to join the band (have you ever met an artist working on a project they have no passion for- it’s not a pretty sight and I relate entirely to his apathy towards the opportunity). However, there were gaping faults in it: to present an industry so conflicted and problematic as Hollywood in such a dreamy, idealistic way is dangerous, I find. Plus, as my mother pointed out, it’s such a safe option for a movie. A feel good romantic film with big name white protagonists is hardly uncharted territory.

Now for the part that made me want to write a review in the first place: the end. More happened in the last ten minutes than in the rest of the film. Five years later, and Mia has achieved all of her dreams, exactly as she envisioned them. She has a husband she clearly loves and a young child. Seb has opened a jazz club, just like he dreamed of. They lock eyes, and even though they part ways, there still seems to be something there.

The alternate timeline that shows when Seb plays their motif is telling. Because whilst the main timeline shows that a life after love is possible, both of their stories aren’t interesting enough to the director to fill a whole film: very little time is dedicated to them, and the darker tones are a stark contrast to the vibrancy of the rest of the film. As Guardian writer David Cox put it, “If, at the end, Seb seems a little lonely and Mia seems a little bored, no matter. Their final smiles indicate that both have attained what really matters: self-satisfaction.”

So what is the film about then? The friction between love (what the heart wants) and ambition (oftentimes, and especially in the case of artists, also what the heart wants)? And if that is the case, what would the suggestion be? To suggest the protagonists have made the right choice doesn’t seem to be reflected in the presentation of their lives. But to suggest we all abandon our dreams for the sake of another person is dangerous, especially in this day and age. People are unreliable to a fault, and it’s especially toxic to tell women, who have been giving up their lives for men for centuries, to wave goodbye to their dreams. I met a woman, once, who gave up her acting career because her husband didn’t approve. He left after a few years, and now she has responsibilities that prevent her from acting any more than in her spare time as a hobby. This is a fate I am much afraid of.

I would argue that there is a point that everyone seems to be missing from that dream-like alternate sequence. Most critics and reviews are placing love and ambition as an either/or scenario. But in the alternate timeline, they both achieved a version of their dreams. Mia got the part, went to Paris and got her dream role. And Seb followed. But was the move at his expense? No. He opened up a jazz club with the name he’d originally wanted to call it, in French, and it seemed to be much more to his hipster tastes than the big flashy ‘Seb’s’. Who knows what would have happened to them from that moment on, but my point remains that although they didn’t realise a perfect version of their dreams, they still achieved all of their goals and ambitions without sacrificing love.

I think the biggest lesson to take from La La Land is that dreams are malleable. There is no set path to achieving what your heart desires, and that really spoke to me, as at Exeter we’re encouraged to look outside of the mainstream industry and make our own work.

Here are some interesting video reviews which touch upon both sides of arguments that I haven’t really covered as much.

A positive review:

And a less positive review:

That’s all from me.

Until next time!! X

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