/ Analyses

The driving force behind La La Land's entrancing narrative

Set in the wryly cruel flamboyance of Los Angeles, La La Land talks about the aspiring, talented youngsters and their non-stop struggles--so relatable that we see ourselves in them.

[This article contains spoilers for La La Land.]


If you liked Whiplash back in 2014, you would want to put a ring on La La Land. Director Damien Chazelle, who has a knack for framing tune-and-beat-crazed young talents at his focus, continued to write about how the path leading to prestige and musical fulfillment is capable of such devastating consequences to insiders. By the way, let us congratulate this 32-year-old genius on his own Oscar.

Director Damien Chazelle and male lead Ryan Gosling on set

The two movies, if put together for comparison, should not be primarily considered with any similarities in outbursts of built-up tension, or the like. Instead, we are bound to contemplate on what people, under given circumstances, are forced to sacrifice during the journey into maturity and stability (if there is actually any of the latter). In Whiplash, Fletcher gave up his humanity and became a sadistic, foul-mouthed instructor in the hope of pushing his students towards true greatness. The main character, Andy Neiman, then gradually crawls back into seclusion after a series of tantrum-throwing, followed suit by a robotic breakup with his girlfriend. The purpose is to prove Neiman’s passion for drumming and that his growth and achievement, despite the obvious indication of luck and any negativity shed by Fletcher, is worthy of recognition.

And here, Mia and Sebastian are driven apart by their individual endgame. They are not selfish and narcissistic; the tragedy here is the desire to actualize their own definition of success is forcefully crushing. Unknowingly, the couple was set for a collision course since day one.

La La Land, as a whole, resonates with its target audience. As a matter of fact, if you don’t find any harmony in the movie’s jazz music, Technicolor’s 60s vibrant tones, old-school musical camera work, and themes of inspiration, aspiration, hope, compromise, desperation, and disappointment, there is a high chance you won’t get ahold of its storyline.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), next to the most intriguing symbol in the movie: the lighthouse


La La Land is not a love story –in a technical sense at least (story is not the same as plot). It is a musical dramedy revolving around passionate individuals of youth and ambition, and the romantic relationship we witnessed only serves as another deeply memorable episode next to many side adventures. Within this purview, the love between Mia and Sebastian further explores an overarching cinematic theme: things that we are willing to pay on the path to personal success. Still, a lot of backlashes have been coming from the body of audience who tend to project their rose-colored expectation unto everything in sight.

This attitude stemmed from the modern view on Romanticism. Initiated back in the middle 1700s as an artistic movement that encouraged people to live in accordance with nature, intuition, and sentiment, Romanticism gradually filled itself into pop culture. In fact, it is quite hard to separate Romanticism from any of the famous stories we have grown to love, even sci-fi classics like Star Wars. It arrives at a common and pure idea to embrace the beauty of nature, admire heroic acts, and yield to surges of emotion. However, there is another toxic aspect of this idealism, which has been unconsciously taken advantage by conventional romcoms. It is the willingness to give up on everything in life just to have a family with the person you think you love at that moment (after spending months getting cozy with only the positive side of their characteristics).

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in their third on-screen collaboration

Modern romantics get fixated on this kind of storytelling and could not care less for the characters’ rationality; sometimes, they are not even aware of rationality at all. The story of Mia and Sebastian seem to fall into this category of usual romcoms for them, so some might have expected the couple to mope around after the fallout of their relationship, only to reunite after one person makes the first move. Actually, Sebastian does, but the rest of their relationship still works out on its almost perfect balance of reasoning and romance. That is why they say they are always gonna love each other. After all, this love is of intimate admiration; Mia would not love Sebastian if she did not look up to his musical enthusiasm, and vice versa (with Mia’s love for acting). Adoring each other, they walk abreast on their briefly shared path with enduring compassion and respect.

Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone


Set in the wryly cruel flamboyance of Los Angeles’ “dream land”, the movie talks about the aspiring, talented youngsters, who always strive and thrive from the bottom of the food chain. They engage in that struggle on a daily basis (as in the fantastical opening) and end up making apparently necessary (but not necessarily proper) decisions. They are us. The stories are relatable – that is how Chazelle made it tick.