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Film Review: LA LA Land is at heart the story of us all

Many feel called but few are chosen in the chase for stardom. For most of American history, Los Angeles has been the place where people flock to achieve their dreams of fame and fortune in the entertainment industry. Some make it and others experience heartbreak. Two such people are Sebastian Wilder and Mia Dolan, two lovers in the film “LA LA Land.”

This acclaimed movie is a throwback to the classic musicals of the 30s and 40s, where boy meets girl and tell of their love story in song. Sebastian is a penny ante club pianist with a dream of opening a jazz club. Mia works as a barista and auditions for film roles in between dishing out coffee at a studio lot to those who have already made it.

“LA LA Land” is like watching two people who are riding in separate cars on different roller coasters. Occasionally their tracks meet up, sometimes with positive and at other times with negative results. You’re pulling for them in their professional and romantic lives, but you can’t help but wonder if the two will crash and burn, especially when they meet up. Some people ride roller coasters for the amusement. After all, they’re located in amusement parks.  However, LA LA Land is primarily not a fun film.  There are too many emotional ups and downs.

Mia is young, enthusiastic and rebellious. The young lady, played by Emma Stone, is a no nonsense type. Stone’s face and personality conjure up images of a sharp talking Bette Davis. Like Davis, Stone is not a stunner, but she captures the screen.

Mia seems  to be quite sure she is going to get cast somewhere. She is the quintessential actor described by Dionne Warwick in “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” In a week maybe two she thinks they’ll make her a star.  The  coffee shop gig is clearly not very important to Mia. It’s just a short stop on the way to the mountain top.

Sebastian , portrayed by Millennial heart throb Ryan Gosling, shares many of Mia’s traits, except he has made resistance an art form. He is unhappy with the state of modern jazz and resents having to pound out a prescribed playlist at his club gigs. What makes it difficult for him is that he is  not silent about it. While Mia is sweet to the public, Sebastian doesn’t care how he treats people. His initial encounters with her reflect this and foreshadow the  future of their relationship.

As the story unfolds, both Sebastian and Mia get off their roller coaster rides altogether and opt for a less threatening yet unsatisfying journey in the kiddie area. Mia begins to think like Warwick in longing for the peace and quiet of home while Sebastian begins to sell out musically. But when each of them experiences these setbacks and begins to believe that they are fantasizing about making it big (thus living in LA LA Land), their partner draws them back into their dream. In this respect, the couple are made for each other. It’s nice to have someone who loves you and knows you better than you know yourself. The rub is whether or not the aspiring celebrities can climb the thrill ride of success together.

Having lived in Los Angeles, I appreciated the occasional glimpses of the city’s culture the movie provides. In fact, if anyone knows anything about the town, it is what Warwick sang of: it’s a great big freeway. The movie opens with a humorous song and dance right in the middle of a traffic jam. I also grew nostalgic while Mia and Sebastian stood on a spot overlooking Los Angeles and its mountains at night. While the couple, in the midst of the early bumps in their romance,  did not appreciate the view, I did. As I spent my time in LA as a student or mainly unemployed, I also liked experiencing some of the other night life I could not afford while living there: the indoor clubbing and the eateries.

As a huge fan of Turner Classic Movies, I was somewhat disappointed by the music and dancing in “LA LA Land”.  Stone and Gosling are nothing special as hoofers and only have passable voices.. They’re not exactly Eleanor Powell or Fred Astaire. Having said that, Stone’s simple performance of “Audition (Here’s to the Fools that Dream)” was quite moving. The song’s lyrics sum up the lives of the two lovers and also our own. We can all relate.

“Here’s to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem.  Here’s to the hearts that ache.  Here’s to the mess we make.”

To Gosling’s credit, he did an amazing job on the piano, especially since he did not even play the instrument prior to his training for the film.

Going in, I thought that perhaps LA LA Land was over-hyped by Hollyood celebs for Oscar glory because it is somewhat biographical for them.  The Academy is nothing if not self congratulatory. Thus,  my expectations were low despite all the ballyhoo. I pretty much had decided that I would be pulling for “Manchester by the Sea” for Best Picture.  But I now think it’s a tie and I am surprised I think that way.

LA LA Land, lacks the old time song and dance inspirational religion of the classic movies, but the story is superb. It’s a tale of heartbreak mixed with love and ambition.  LA LA Land is every man and woman’s saga. Who could ask for more from a film?

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