The moment Warren Beatty declared ‘The Shape of Water’ to be the Best Picture, my heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t help but cast my mind back a year to the same award, the same presenters, and a similar muffled trepidation that exhausted and enthralled. When ‘La La Land’ was declared the winner, I rejoiced with tears in my eyes and a grin that traversed the whole length of my face. Heartbreak, confusion, and indignation followed, as ‘Moonlight’ claimed the award after a slip up from the accountants. Nonetheless, ‘La La Land’ won our hearts and will probably be the film people talk, critics discuss, and writers, like me, write about decades after its release. The plot of the revolves around the lives of Mia, an acting hopeful, and Sebastian, a jazz pianist who wants to open his own club. When their paths meet, a spark ignites, eventually blossoming into love. As they make strides in the pursuit of their dreams, love becomes a barrier, an obstacle that the two decide to uproot from their lives but prolong in their hearts.
The Premise and the Theme
The premise, though simple and quite honestly predictable, presents a much deeper and profound inquiry. The question that Chazelle asks through Mia and Sebastian is whether or not desires in one’s life preclude or take precedence over love. The choices that the characters make in the movie, to separate and follow their dreams, as heartbreaking as they are, actually seem pragmatic and seem like the ones people like me or you would make in real life. Throughout the film you see Sebastian and Mia go on long walks and share their aspirations. The fervor with which Mia explains the provenance of her love for movies and the dream to become an actress, and Sebastian, with meticulous and well-thought details the inside of his club and how it would be different from other money-minting institutions in the city, serves as an exciting and engaging build-up to the eventual moment of heartbreak. Devoid of plot twists or maniacal villains, ‘La La Land’s irresistible sun-drenched sets and aesthetic beauty sustain the movie and augment its charm with every second. The color palette of the film was another striking and intriguing highlight. Almost resembling Wes Anderson’s unique visual style, Linus Sandgren’s expert use of soft lighting and vivid anamorphic rendering made the film a visual treat. The clothes and the color of the walls changed with mood and tone of the film and so did the body language of the characters. Scenes like this one make your heart wrought with joy and leave you with a sense of poetic melancholy and contemplation.
Chazelle imitates most of his directorial techniques from ‘Whiplash’, including that iconic scene when Sebastian plays and Mia dances. His assured display behind the camera evened out flaws in the imperfect script and made the ordeal a whole lot personal. The theatrical components in the movie stand out, often used during songs to dramatize a moment; the spotlight reveals the characters in a pitch black background and boy is that beautiful. I couldn’t help but applaud the tacit relationships between characters and their dreams that Chazelle constructed and reminisce one scene in particular in Scorcese’s masterpiece ‘Taxi Driver’. When Travis meets Betsy for the first time, Scorcese uses an elaborate shot, that starts with a closeup of Travis and gradually traverse its way to Betsy to show how distanced the two are, or how far Travis is from his object of affection. While Chazelle isn’t explicit with his perspective, he uses deft camera work to cleverly integrate the scenes where Sebastian has coffee diametrically opposite to a club he admires and hopefully own one day, and the ironical place of Mia’s employment wherein he uses one shot to fix her gaze at the window Bogart looked out, dreaming to be in Bogart’s place. Such small attention to details and symbolism adds layers to the film and brings about a sense of completeness.
One scene that I would like to talk about in detail is the last one of the film, where Mia meets Sebastian in his club as a successful actress. The moment their eyes meet, Sebastian plays a magnificent solo that starts with the melody that he was playing when he first met Mia. The film then goes into an alternate reality and the perfect version of the story where the two end up together, Keith doesn’t interfere and Sebastian attends Mia’s play which is a full house, and they lead an idyllic and successful life. This part is also probably the most expressive and immersive leg of the narrative, wherein the viewer is fed what could have been rather than what is. It plays with a motley of emotions that run through the characters. Sebastian is regretful and repents his behavior in his relationship with Mia; she, on the other hand, tackles the situation with a sense of trepidation and a gentle nod, realizing, almost convincing herself that she made the right choice. Objectively scrutinizing their relationship, Mia and Sebastian were imperfect together. Despite their love for each other, they couldn’t iron out differences; small fights escalated into big ones; they didn’t function like a functional team, and more importantly, they couldn’t further the other’s dreams. The true romance of the movie lied in their imperfections and the story that we saw at the start. They part in tacit acquiesce and move on in life, almost having closure now that both have achieved their dreams they so passionately pursued. A happy ending in my reckoning.
Audacious, retro, funny and heartfelt, ‘La La Land’ is the latest great musical for people who don’t like musicals – and will slap a mile-wide smile across the most miserable of faces. A perfect homage to old Hollywood musicals and a benchmark for movies of the 21st century to emulate.
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