During an audition, aspiring actress Mia recalls her aunt dancing in the frigid waters of the Seine for no other reason than to experience the potent medley of water and snow. She had a cold for the next month, but, she told her niece, it was worth repeating. The movie “La La Land” is much like the story told by its leading lady: a passionate exploration of the choice to participate absurdly in life for the sake of the experience.
When Mia (Emma Stone) meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), she’s a barista and aspiring actress, and he’s a part-time pianist with dreams of opening a jazz club. Their relationship, initially challenged by her hatred for jazz and his surly disposition, develops slowly but becomes essential to their growth as individuals and as artists.
The movie, while not exactly a classic, combines the star-crossed melancholy of “Casablanca” with the old-fashioned charisma of “Singing in the Rain.”
Whenever the leading characters become disheartened, they encourage each other to follow their respective dreams. Sebastian advises Mia to create a one-woman show because he sees her talent when no one else does. And Mia believes that he will open his own jazz club someday even when he gives up the dream himself.
The melancholy comes in the end — don’t read on if you mind spoilers — when Mia and Sebastian choose their respective dreams over their relationship with each other.
But despite the ending, the story has a more hopeful message than if they had ended up together. A happily ever after is not something that all of us have experienced, but most of us have been in relationships that ended. So the movie resonates with anyone who’s ever lost a friend or lover: the relationship is beautiful, but so is moving on.
The movie embodies the spirit of its main characters in all the best ways. It’s idealistic like Mia. It feels like as much of an old soul as Sebastian. And it invites the viewer to see their relationship as they come to see it: worthwhile even when it ended.
Choosing between a love and following your dream is not always necessary, but the movie reminds us that we have the choice to do either, and the consequences of our choices are not neither as permanent nor as unkind as they seem.
Mia and Sebastian learn to appreciate a moment rather than anticipate its outcome; the result of the decision, it seems to say, matters less than what happens on the way there.
“La La Land” is a movie about finding the positive in sad situations. The movie takes a while to germinate. You might not appreciate it at first. Watching the movie is almost like going through a breakup of your own: it hurts at first, but soon enough you can look back and see everything that was wonderful without feeling the pain.
In the end, the image that will stick in your head is not that of the couple going their separate ways, but that of Mia and Sebastian dancing together, unmindful of crowds or consequences.