I remember being so excited to catch Les Miserables back in 2012, but having to wait until 2013 to watch it in the movie house because in the Philippines, only Metro Manila Film Festival entries play on the theaters during Christmastime. I had a similar experience with Damien Chazelle’s La La Land.
The hype around the flick began way before December, and by January, I just had to watch it. The moment it hit Philippine cinemas, I begged my best friend to take me with him. And there we were.
For those who don’t know me, I am quite the fan of musicals. Really. Everything from Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, to Next to Normal. Also, I spent a semester abroad in the City of Angels, no less. And so, La La Land really hit a soft spot in me. Let’s not even start talking about how much I resonated to the plight of these two creatives. Let’s do that later.
Whenever I make reviews, I just spill out all my thoughts on a certain film or book. I’ll try to make this one as systematic as possible. We’ve began with the hype around it, as well as my personal connection to it. Let’s now delve to how it fared in my eyes.
Perhaps all the hype around it, and how excited I was for the film, did not fully contribute to my enjoyment of it later on. It was just okay. I came in the cinema with a pack of tissues in hand, more than ready to cry my eyes out. I didn’t.
The film started with a shot of the many freeways in Los Angeles. I remember being one of those freeways before. Traffic was at a standstill, and then suddenly, everyone bursts into song.
I don’t know what to feel about this opening sequence. I tried so hard to listen to the lyrics of the song being played (Another Day of Sun), but aside from setting the tone, it doesn’t really serve much purpose. The song basically says… this is Los Angeles, it’s hot. Its reminiscent of many other ensemble performances in musicals, ones that do not even include the star players. For some reason, I can’t think of any other example aside from the opening song of 2012’s Frozen, Frozen Heart. The men were cutting ice while singing this folk song. That was basically it. It was telling the audience what story to expect, instead of actually contributing to the story. Out of the many songs in the film, maybe only one was able to really make an impact and be a story in itself, and it wouldn’t come in until later.
By the end of the first song and dance number though, we are finally introduced to Mia and Sebastian, who are coincidentally one after another, bumper to bumper on a Los Angeles freeway. With the little quirks and nuances Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling gave off in these first few minutes, we got a taste of who they were as people.
I was totally caught off-guard the moment that it hit me, La La Land is set today. 2016, perhaps. I never would have guessed based off all of the trailers I watched. And I watched a lot of them.
You wouldn’t feel it with how these characters live, though. Aside from being a way to know whether or not they got the callback, technology played a very little part in their lives. And so, it hit me. This is set in 2016, but it’s not set in Los Angeles. It’s set in La La Land, which is sort of Los Angeles, but not really.
I had so many feelings every time a Los Angeles landmark would make an appearance. Griffith Park? I love that place. There’s no chance in hell they’ll be able to sneak in there after hours. And as far I know, Angel’s Knoll hasn’t been operational in years. But I’m just nitpicking.
Los Angeles may have been the backdrop, and La La Land may have been its title, but its not that essential to the story. The story was still all about Mia and Sebastian. And if you ask me, it could have been set anywhere.
There is nothing new about their story. I mean, really. A struggling actress? A struggling musician? We’ve all seen that before. How I wish we could have delved deeper into their craft and psyche like Whiplash and Black Swan did before them.
La La Land has been billed as a film for the romantics. Maybe it is. Well, it definitely is for the general romantics. Not the love-obsessed, but the hopeful. It’s a story about hope, and you’ll feel with Mia as she’s faced with rejection after rejection, and failure after failure. You’ll feel with Sebastian too as he steers further away from his dream to live a more stable life. You’ll feel for both of them because they’re dreamers. What ever happened to your dreams?
I will borrow a few words from one of the true filmic love letters to Los Angeles, (500) Days of Summer, in describing the other romantic aspect of La La Land. It’s not a love story. Okay, they meet, they fall in love, but it isn’t about them. It’s about their dreams. They just happen to be in love and in a relationship while they’re struggling with the idea of their dreams.
I admit, I spoiled myself earlier on and read the Wikipedia summary. I knew they weren’t going to end up together. It didn’t make the revelation of it hurt less, but I didn’t really care. It wasn’t about them. Whether or not they did end up together did not and would not have contributed to the story. It would just be an epilogue, and it served that purpose.
Of course, it was heartbreaking watching Mia enter Sebastian’s club to find the logo she designed for him many years back in neon lights. The fantasy sequence as Sebastian played the piano and imagined what their lives could have been like if they held on to each other hurt like it supposed to, but their smiles and nods at the end as Mia left the club made it clear – they were where they were supposed to be, and that was enough for them. That was also enough for me as a viewer.
I was expecting so much more, but at the end of the day, La La Land is a sweet film. It will make you feel things, most definitely. But is it worth the hype? Not really. Will it win an Oscar? It might. But I think there are many other films that go deeper and harder than La La Land, and I’m looking forward to these films bagging their well-deserved golden statuettes at this year’s Academy Awards.