I’ve always said Ryan Gosling was meant to do comedy. I think very highly of the guy, but I hold the unpopular opinion that he’s not necessarily the best dramatic actor in the world. In La La Land he gets a chance to utilize some dramatic-acting skills, but strays away from his usual angst-filled characters as he showcases his humor chops.
It helps that he and Emma Stone have such great chemistry. With their third feature together (Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad) the pair demonstrate why they may be our generation’s Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers–two actors that are paid homage to in this film.
La La Land is about a struggling actress, Mia (Stone), who is constantly being rejected at every audition she has, and a mercurial jazz pianist, Sebastian (Gosling), who dreams of opening his own jazz club. He is a talented musician but often finds himself going against his own integrity playing pop music and simple lounge standards. The two meet in a way that would make any classic cinephile proud, and over time develop a relationship, each dealing with his and her own floundering careers is the process.
The film acts as a love letter to Los Angeles. It’s not necessarily a nice letter, but it’s not a breakup letter either. More like a letter to an abusive partner who you keep coming back to for some inexplicable reason, only for them to spit on you and tell you you’re worthless.
It pokes fun at the city, constantly saying out loud the things most of us would be tried for treason for ever thinking. But they’ve all been actual thoughts lingering in our minds at one point or another.
It’s a quixotical view of what LA is supposed to be–or used to be. The two characters are old souls adamantly romanticizing what they view their ideal careers to be, only to realize that they view this city in an antiquated way that no longer really exists in today’s world. Things such as technology and loss of nostalgia are ruining it, and they struggle to find the balance between the new and the old without wanting to compromise much.
The film, on the other hand, compromises the new and the old very well in its every moment. The songs don’t feel modern, but they don’t feel dated either. They’re not necessarily poppy and affable at first–fitting well into the film’s jazz theme.
Gosling and Stone are not fantastic singers, but they’re not bad either, which makes their performances all the more appealing–they’re one of us.
Much like a non-New Yorker can empathize with a film that pays homage (or lack thereof) to New York, one doesn’t have to be from Los Angeles to get what the film is trying to say. Viewers can see where the movie comes from. LA is everywhere. We experience it in almost every movie we watch in one way or another.
La La Land isn’t just for Los Angeleans. It’s for dreamers and people with big visions. For people who have been rejected over and over and over again, told they’re not good enough, and still, for some reason, keep going back at it. But like anything we love, it takes a lot of work. La La Land makes you believe in your dreams again.