Warning: This review includes some big spoilers, not for people that have not seen the film and do not want the ending ruined!
I have been going to the theatre to watch musicals since I was three. I believe my first ever show was Cinderella, my first ever musical Beauty and the Beast. I vaguely remember travelling to London with my parents, and going to the London Victoria station, and being very confused why it was named after my cousin. The only part of Cinderella I remember is that one of the Shetland ponies (used to draw the carriage) decided to empty his bowels onstage. Both of my parents love the theatre, and it has made up a huge part of my life, eventually leading me to perform onstage, and do my literature degree. However, musical theatre holds a special place in my heart.
You can imagine my excitement when I first heard that there was going to be a new musical called La La Land released in cinemas. I didn’t care what the story line was, I was hooked. I watched every teaser trailer and interview there was at the time, and was determined to see it.
So much of what is being produced now is empty for me. Both in books and film, the mass media is an absolutely fantastic tool, but it means that you spend a lot of time searching your way through “art” that lacks any real depth in order to find hidden gems. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good action movie, Marvel films are my guilty pleasure in life. But films and books alike lack the soul of what came before. You don’t get books like Ulysses or films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s anymore, it’s a rare find nowadays to find something that isn’t afraid to be obscure, or truly heartfelt (without being cheesy). But then something breaks through the ice, and for me, that something is La La Land.
In Sebastian, I saw so much of myself. Someone who is passionate about dying arts, passionate about things that, realistically, no one (my age at least) cares about anymore, desperately wanting to revive it. It is so rare for me to mention that I love poetry or classical theatre and hear an excited “Me, too!” Sebastian is also trying to figure things out, muddling through and taking whatever opportunity comes his way until he can grapple-hook his dream. However, compared to Mia, Sebastian is lost, and that is something I can heavily relate to. I know that I want to work in the literary industry, helping to keep it alive, but I don’t know how to achieve that.
From the opening number, the film managed to put a smile on my face. Echoing the street dance from Fame, it was lively and colourful and beautifully executed. The scenes with Mia at work, and with her friends were very relatable (especially as a student), and made me laugh. Emma Stone neatly captures the frustrations of working a job that you don’t want or like so that you can follow your dream on the sidelines.
Most of the film, I actually felt a little disappointed. It was good, it was really good. But it lacked that wow factor of musicals like The Bodyguard or Wicked, and some of the scenes with real potential felt a bit rushed. But once Mia and Sebastian’s romance started to flourish, the film slowed down and got better as time went on. Reading some of the headlines about this film, I expected it to be a cheesy romance and end that way. But the film came with a surprising edge to it.
As time goes on, Mia and Sebastian’s lives start to diverge. Sebastian takes on a job that he doesn’t like just so that he can please and provide for his girlfriend, and Mia takes a leap of faith that doesn’t pull off. Sebastian is forced to spend a lot of time away from home for work, and then Mia’s dream forces her to leave the familiar safety of LA, and their life together. As much as they (and we) want the couple to work out, life gets in the way. Both have to make sacrifices in order to pursue their passions, and ultimately their relationship is on that list.
Mia’s last audition is the point in which I started to get blurry-eyed. The words of her song spoke to me directly. As a little girl, I too wanted to be an actress, but life got in the way, and I was told that it was an unrealistic career to pursue. Since, I’ve started piecing together a new dream, but it feels just as foolish as wanting to be an actress. Part of me doesn’t even want to entertain the notion, but to just settle with a secure office job that pays the bills. Then, came the talk after the audition. I related to both Sebastian and Mia. I was in a relationship for over four years, which ultimately came to an end because of the very same reasons. They had to leave to follow their dream, and I had to stay to finish figuring mine out. We could tell that our lives would continue to go in separate directions, and that no matter how we felt, it wasn’t going to work. I have heard the phrase “I will always have feelings for you” far too much in the past few years!
As I’m sure it was for everyone in the cinema, the icing on the cake for me was when Mia walked into Seb’s. To see her influence upon his dream, all those years later, and how he believed in her enough to finally take her advice, was heart-warming. It is everything you hope for when you leave a relationship – for them to pull off their dream, and to see that you have helped them to reach it. For Sebastian to then play their song once he had spotted her in the crowd, was heart-breaking. And for a moment, Mia was all of us post-break up. Replaying all of the plans that they had made together, all of the things they could have been. And it was this montage of their what-ifs that was the crowning moment of La La Land. Beautiful to watch, accompanied by magnificent compositions and abstract ideas, it was so engrossing that for a second you bought-in to the idea that this was the real ending. They had figured it out, they had stayed together, they had got married and had kids… right? Wrong.
That earth-shattering moment when the camera pans back to Seb’s and Mia walks out of the club reminds you that sometimes you really do have to choose between who and what you love. And it’s okay to put yourself first. It sums up the entire film, forces you to look back at Mia’s rejections, Sebastian’s failures, and see how far they have come, because they didn’t give up on their dreams. The final realisation being that this is not a cheesy Hollywood romance, but life. They couldn’t have made it to where they are now without letting go of each other. That sometimes, you dream isn’t how you first imagined it, but that doesn’t make the reality any less wonderful.
In the final scenes of La La Land, I felt tears streaming down my face. Not only for the emotions that the film provoked, or how relatable it was, or that it forced me to look at my own life and make similar realisations, but also for the sheer beauty of it. For the rest of the journey home, when I thought about how visually stunning the montage was, and how perfectly the music accompanied it, capturing every moment of this emotional rollercoaster, I continued to cry. This film was outstanding, and I will be going to see it again at every available opportunity. For anyone who works in or studies the arts, you need to see this film. For anyone that has a dream, you need to see this film. It is full of the soul and obscurities of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with the dynamic, jazz-hands and theatricality of Hairspray or Fame.