La La Land is rated 12A for infrequent strong language
Aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz fanatic Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) cross paths in Los Angeles. The city is full of dreamers, and Mia and Sebastian are no exception: she wants to be a star on the silver screen, while he wants to open his own jazz club. From their first encounter, sparks fly between them, and soon they are falling in love.
Their relationship plays out against the sweeping backdrop of Hollywood, to a soundtrack of wistful musical numbers. Will they get where they want to go – and will their love survive the journey?
La La Land has received such glowing acclaim from all quarters that it’s hard not to go in burdened with expectations. I dislike this feeling because it makes it very difficult to actually discern your own reaction under all the noise: that reaction, as far as I can tell, is that I like the film very much without loving it the way that many critics have.
From start to finish La La Land is a sustained charm offensive, and those charms are considerable – from the delightful performances of its leads to its bright colour palette, magical fantasy sequences and memorable tunes. The sun-drenched opening sequence in particular is delightful, while Mia’s stunning audition song late in the story provides an emotional highlight.
Despite all this I’d be lying if I said I was quite satisfied – the characters never quite felt whole or convincing to me somehow. But to criticise the film for being insubstantial seems somewhat besides the point: ‘fantasy’ is definitely the keyword here, and if you enter into it in that spirit, you’ll be swept away.
- Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? Was it what you expected? If you have seen Whiplash, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s other film, how did La La Land compare?
- What did you make of the two leads? This is their third time appearing in a film together: what makes Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling a good screen couple? How would you rate their singing and dancing?
- How did you react to the film’s music? Which song was your favourite, and why? How successfully were the musical moments incorporated into the storyline?
Is someone in the crowd the only thing you really see?
Watching while the world keeps spinning ’round?
Somewhere there’s a place where I find who I’m gonna be
A somewhere that’s just waiting to be found.
– ‘Someone in the Crowd’
- What do Mia and Sebastian want from their lives in LA? What drives each of them to pursue their respective dreams? What does LA represent to them, and how do they experience the city?
- Could you identify with Mia’s frustration at her failed auditions, and at the seeming failure of her play? How does it feel when other people don’t appreciate how important our dreams are, or how hard we’re working? How might someone like Mia avoid becoming disillusioned?
- Why do you think Sebastian agrees to play with Keith’s band? At what point – if ever – do you think it’s OK to compromise on our dreams? How did you react to the film’s perspective on the idea of compromise?
A bit of madness is key
To give us new colours to see.
– ‘The Fools Who Dream’
- According to La La Land, what draws people to become artists? Do you think there is any truth to the idea of the ‘artistic temperament’? Why does society need artists?
- What draws Mia and Sebastian together initially, and what is it that begins to drive them apart? In your view, should they have tried to compromise in order to stay together? When should a personal passion or a dream be prioritised over a relationship?
- What did you think of the film’s perspective on success and satisfaction? Is La La Land trying to say anything significant in this respect, or does it knowingly present a fantasy? To what extent is it possible to be truly satisfied by career or creative success?
- How did you feel about the way the story ended? What emotions were you left with, and do you wish it had been a more conventionally happy ending? Why do you think the filmmakers chose to end it in this way?