Words cannot describe the “rat-tat-tat of my heart” when I walked out of the cinema after watching the romance movie La La Land starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. This was a legendary movie that took home six academy awards at the 2017 Oscars, including “Best Actress”, “Best Cinematography”, “Best Original Score”. The work stitches together 12 songs and tells a story between a boy wanting to be a jazz musician and a girl wanting to be an actress. It gives me the idea that the artistic value behind all the tunes, the choreography and the plot way exceeds the simple summation of “a love story.”
The choice of place in which the story takes place, Los Angeles, is a clever design on its own. LA has long been considered the city of sunshine. Enveloped in the sunny atmosphere of California, it always seems to trigger an emotion of exuberant vibrancy. So it was actually surprising that, in La La Land, a lot of the most affectionate scenes happen in the evening. (Like the classic dancing-under-the-street-lamps scene that never gets old.) Isn’t it special that the most beautiful stories in the city of the sun happen under the stars?
The film features a cluster of bold, daring contrasting hues. This is especially underscored in the clip of Mia and her friends dancing before an audition. All Mia ever wanted was to become an actress and was always on the lookout for show opportunities.
Before the audition, each of the girls’ dresses is a vibrant waterfall of bright colors: yellow, red, blue, green. We see the director completely abolishing the rules of harmony. Every dress is screaming “look at me! I’m shining!” Yet relating to the film itself, it seems like only the boldest colors could hold up to Mia’s bold, undiminished desire for the stage. This was exactly the world depicted in the lyrics from the opening song: "A technicolor world made out of music and machine, it calls me to be on that screen.”
The musicality is undeniably a work of genius that elevated the movie to another level. Since Sebastian is a passionate jazz pianist, the film uses this particular musical form to capture attention through intricate rhythm. As a piano player myself, I used to dread all the jazz pieces.
It was extremely challenging to grasp the fast-changing tempo, fitting different numbers of notes into one beat. Imagine trying to rap like Eminem, playing around with syllables and fitting countless numbers of them into a verse.
No other music form could match this film so precisely. The rise, paired with allegro, indicates the chemistry that burgeons between Mia and Sebastian and how everything in their dreams and careers are in motion. The romance, with andante, matches with their dance under the streetlamp, when they clearly realize their emotions and understand how much the other person’s character syncs with theirs.
The fall, followed by adagio, was a sweet melody that symbolizes how the two fell apart for the misunderstanding about each other’s careers. Mia fails her first attempt at a one-woman show, and all was dark and gloomy. The emotions of the audience are tightly grasped through every acceleration and deceleration of the tempo.
As the movie approached an end, I remember facing an interesting dilemma: to smile or to cry? I couldn’t decide, as it was impossible to define the ending with whether it was happy or bad. Mia became a famous actress, got married and realized her dream.
Sebastian opened his own jazz club and was free to play the music he loved. The movie chose to use an alternative montage clip to highlight the ambiguity of the ending. In the clip, Mia and Sebastian gave up their dreams and end up together. They raise a child and enjoy the happiness of matching wits with another soul. Could the ending depicted in the montage be the “right” one? But it would mean that neither of the two passionate young people ever completed their own stories, but chose to combine their stories into one. The ultimate question holds: which was more worth chasing: dreams or love? The answers could vary with age, characteristic, passion, desire and so much more. As the lyrics of the 1 by Taylor Swift declare: “the greatest films of all time were never made.” Maybe it was impossible to view the ending in a perfect way, but perfection wouldn’t be what the film is made for.
Going back to the opening scene: where the whole movie started with a whole highway of people dancing together, telling their stories while being stuck in a traffic jam. The song they sang was the famous Another Day of the Sun. With the last note, the camera zooms in on Sebastian, and the story between him and Mia unfolds.
This seems to say their story is one of millions. It didn’t shine more brightly than all the others. It was just one of the sparkles of memory etched in the city of sunshine. Thinking about this, I walked back home from the cinema. I walked through the crowd and exited the subway station, stepping on the lift and moving up slowly. The afternoon sunset glazed on my forehead, shoulders, chest, arms…The blinding golden beam forced me to squint. I got on my bike and rode into the sunset. Like Mia and Sebastian, I have dreams myself that I hope to realize one day. And the thing was, it didn’t feel any less exhilarating than Mia and Sebastian’s.
Coming to think of it, the plot of La La Land is nothing out of the ordinary. Just a forgotten romance between two souls that click. But why could it be so captivating to watch, apart from the exceptional musicality and appealing visual designs?
I believe it is the relativity it brings to the readers. We’ve all felt that surge of emotions experienced by the main characters. Through their story, the audience get the sense that their own lives are as interesting as the film. There’s beauty in all of our lives, it’s just a matter of whether we can find it.