Warning: contains spoilers
With its opening sequence providing a modern twist on the old-school Hollywood musical dance number, it looks like La La Land will be an impressive film. But hang on, is that singer’s voice a bit weak, is the choreography a bit less than exacting? It’s all done in a much more naturalistic style than we’re used to from blockbuster musicals and this is surprisingly difficult to adjust to. In one way, it’s refreshing to see people behaving in a way we could hope to emulate but, on the other hand, is that the kind of escapism we go to the cinema for? It’s actually a little disconcerting, disappointing even – but that’s a challenge thrown down by the filmmakers.
From the trailers, I’d assumed it would be a particular kind of traditional “boy meets girl, there’s a minor threat to the relationship, boy gets girl in the end” romantic tale. While there’s certainly an element of this archetypal romance story to the film, it’s also a lot more grounded, some might even say cynical, than that. There’s a central couple falling in love, supporting and encouraging one another through the ups and downs of their lives. But, for each of them, achieving their career goals requires intense dedication and hard work, and – SPOILER – the price they are both willing to pay for their success is love.
Ryan Gosling’s character has been called overbearing, bullying even, but he’s a man obsessed (jazz again, as in the director’s previous film, Whiplash). He’s also supportive of Emma Stone’s character, driving her to the audition that will eventually change her life. Stone’s character is actually just as driven as Gosling’s, but in a less macho way, with her insecurities nearer the surface. Each provides a necessary and positive influence on the other: he sees that compromise is possible in getting the jazz club he wants, she gains more determination not to give up on her dreams.
The seasons pass as their ambitions come and go, but it’s only the final season Winter, with the added tag “Five Years Later” that gives us the perspective we need. As the pair meet up once again, the camera lets us believe this is a particularly poignant moment for them. Then the truth is revealed: they’re both fine with what they’ve given up in each other, because they’ve been able to push onwards into something else. Losing their love has opened other doors for them, paved the way for later success.
In one way, it’s an homage to a life-changing romance that we will remember fondly always. In others, it’s a bleak view of Hollywood as a place where personal relationships are ruthlessly cast aside in the pursuit of material success. And it does rather outstay its welcome at a shade over two hours long, with some of the musical routines feeling rather interminable and just not really strong enough to stand the test of time.