Film / La La Land

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"Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream I cannot make true?"
— "City of Stars"

La La Land is a 2016 American romantic musical dramedy film written and directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J. K. Simmons, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt.

The movie follows two people trying to make it in Los Angeles, the city of stars known for destroying hopes and breaking hearts — Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, an aspiring jazz musician. They fall in love after a series of chance meetings, and try to make it despite their dreams at odds with reality — and eventually, each other.

La La Land premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August 2016, and was released on December 9, 2016. The film won the Critics' Choice Award for Best Picture, and won in every category it was nominated at the Golden Globe Awards, with a record-breaking seven wins. It also earned 14 Oscar nominations (which is a record, tied with Titanic (1997) and All About Eve), and won six, including Best Actress for Emma Stone and Best Director for Damien Chazelle.


La La Land provides examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: After Mia's successful audition, Sebastian attempts to rekindle the relationship with her, which is unlikely as their ongoing careers mean they're rarely going to see each other. They nevertheless declare that they will always love each other. Cue a five year Time Skip, and Mia's already married to another man named David and also has a child with him, though Sebastian seems to take it well and the two share a knowing smile to each other.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Averted. Though drawing inspiration from a variety of classic movie-musicals, the music and story of La La Land are both completely original.
  • Amicable Exes: After the five year time skip, the only interaction we see between Sebastian and Mia is a smile akin to that of a salute, implying they're still on good terms despite no longer communicating.
  • Anti-Villain: Keith. Sebastian doesn't like his modern take on jazz, the photoshoot with the band is clearly seen as a low point for Sebastian the recording/audition that precedes it shows he's not happy about the hip-hop/RNB-esque additions, and joining the band sets him on a path away from fulfilling his dream of starting a jazz bar. However, nothing Keith says about jazz is really incorrect and his argument with Sebastian is shown as very valid, and in the end his music isn't seen as wrong either, even if it's not to Sebastian's taste. Additionally, when Keith lays out to Sebastian how he can be extremely difficult to handle and how he's impeding his own ambitions through his narrow worldview, Sebastian doesn't offer anything in response, implying that he knows Keith has a point. And even after Sebastian leaves the band, he keeps in touch with Keith. There's also the fact that he's a Nice Guy towards everyone he interacts with, showing that he's in no way a bad person, just someone who disagrees with Sebastian.
  • Author Appeal: Sebastian's zealous love of jazz doubtlessly comes from Damien Chazelle's own background as a jazz musician.
  • Babies Ever After: Mia has a child after the time skip, but it's with David, not Sebastian. A child with Sebastian is also a part of her Fantasy Sequence.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: The leads' relationship starts out this way. They first meet when she flips him off in traffic, and they continue sparring through "A Lovely Night," which is all about how there's no chemistry between them, no way no how.
  • Big "NO!": Seb shouts a big one past midnight in a sleepy Nevada town after having already agitated a neighbor by blaring his car horn searching for Mia.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Sebastian's response to Mia refusing to answer the request of the casting director that attended her one woman play, because any futher disappointment would break her. Further.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mia and Sebastian end up independently successful, but Mia marries David and has a daughter with him. She imagines what could have been if she and Sebastian had ended up together, but she ultimately leaves with her husband, but not before appreciating the name of the club (which she suggested) and the club logo that she designed. Sebastian sees Mia in the crowd, and the two share a knowing smile before they part ways.
  • Bookends:
    • Early in the film, an unnamed celebrity visits the coffee shop where Mia works and pays for a drink despite being offered a freebie by the starry-eyed staff. Near the end, the scene repeats with Mia herself being the celebrity.
    • The film begins with Mia going for an audition and running into a bored and disaffected casting director who barely treats her as more than a prop while she tries to give a rehearsed, emotional speech. The climactic moment of the film has Mia perform another audition for a casting director who is much more attentive, and lets her improvise her own monologue, which is emotional for its own reasons.
    • The first and last time Sebastian and Mia meet in a club. The former occurs when both of them are at a low point, and he gives her the brushoff after she becomes amazed after hearing his music while walking past the restaurant. The latter occurs when both have become successful (though following their own paths), but this time they give each other a knowing nod that reflects their journey.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Sebastian blaring the car horn for several seconds to annoy Mia. It's first seen at the very beginning of the film, when Sebastian honks angrily at Mia in traffic, and later becomes a form of endearment whenever he drives to her apartment and announces his presence. Later on, after Mia takes off back to Boulder City, he uses the same trick to locate her house, much to the annoyance of the neighbors.
    • Early in the movie, Sebastian chastises his sister for sitting on a prized wooden stool which belonged to a famous jazz musician. At the end of the film, the stool is displayed prominently in Sebastian's own jazz bar and is basically the first thing anyone sees when they enter the room. It's even on a pedestal putting it at roughly chest height. No one is ever sitting on it again.
    • During the Fantasy Sequence, the name of Sebastian's Parisian club looks like a French translation of "Chicken on a Stick".
  • Call Back: A tragic one. Early in the film, Sebastian asks Mia to go on a movie night with him, but when the time comes Mia forgets that she already has a date with her current boyfriend. After hanging Sebastian up for quite a big while, Mia finally excuses herself to meet him at the theater just in time for the movie to begin. Later in the movie, it's Sebastian who has a date with Mia at her solo stage show, but he forgets that he has a photograph session with his band during that time. Unlike last time, Sebastian failed to show up until Mia's show already ended, hurting Mia even further in addition to the overall negative reception of her show.
  • Call-and-Response Song: "A Lovely Night" is essentially a musical battle of the tongues between the two leads.
    "A silver shine that stretches to the sea
    We've stumbled on a view that’s tailor-made for two.
    What a shame those two are you and me."
  • Chekhov's Gun: When they stroll through the Warner Brothers backlot, Mia tells Sebastian how her home in Boulder City was across the street from the town library. He later uses that information to find her after she leaves Los Angeles without a forwarding address.
  • Contrived Coincidence: After their first brief meeting in traffic, Mia and Sebastian run into each other twice more over the next couple of days and weeks. Mia remarks on how strange it is.
    Mia: It's kind of strange that we keep running into each other.
    Sebastian: Maybe it means something.
    Mia: I doubt it.
    Sebastian: Yeah I don't think so.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-universe:
    • A milder one occurs when after Sebastian overhears Mia struggling to explain how he can "somehow" make a living with his vagabond lifestyle, he signs a band tour contract with his friend Keith.
    • After overhearing a negative review from one of her show's few audience members, Mia breaks up with Sebastian and moves back to her hometown.
  • Crowd Song: Opener "Another Day of Sun" begins with everyone stuck in LA traffic leaving their cars for a big song-and-dance number.
  • Dancing on a Bus: "Another Day of Sun" has several drivers in a traffic jam dancing and/or showing off their talents on top of their cars and trucks.
  • Deus ex Machina: The idea of La La Land being a place of changing fortunes where anything can happen is reinforced when after Mia's one-woman show appears to flop, it turns out one of the few attendees was a casting agent so impressed she offers her the opportunity to spend eight months writing and starring in a film in Paris, despite her being a total unknown, propelling her to stardom in a few short years.
  • Double-Meaning Title:
    • "La La Land" is a nickname for Los Angeles, and "la la" also suggests singing. It can also be a euphemism describing a person out of touch with reality.
    • The story is separated into seasons which represents each story segment, beginning from Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. While the first three seasons are fairly cheerful in tone, the 'Fall' introduction gives a much more ominous vibe, as it also represents the falling out between Mia and Sebastian because of their careers.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Mia and Sebastian don't end up together, and Mia marries David.
  • Distant Finale: The epilogue takes place five years after Mia's last audition.
  • Dramatic Spotlight: At the start of a few songs, the entire scene will fade to black except for the person singing (most noticeable in Mia's last audition).
  • Dream Ballet: The final dance between Mia and Sebastian is done in this style. It's even set in Paris.
  • Dream Melody: City of Stars sort of qualifies as this. Sebastian first performs the song alone out on the boardwalk, then in a duet with Mia, and during the closing credits a humming version is performed by Emma Stone. The song's lyrics serve as a sort of Arc Words, speaking to the theme of dreams and how the setting of LA often simultaneously fosters and destroys those dreams.
  • Duet Bonding: The attraction between Mia and Sebastian gets noticeably stronger during "A Lovely Night" and their apartment duet of "City of Stars".
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)". It's the final song in the movie with lyrics, and the only two numbers that follow it on the soundtrack are "Epilogue" and "The End", both of which are medleys of other songs throughout the movies. And story-wise, it represents the resolution to the Mia's career storyline, with only one scene in the movie between it and the epilogue.
  • Failure Montage: Mia has a series of failed auditions.
  • Fantasy Sequence: Mia has a breathtaking one when she sees Sebastian at his club and imagines the life she could have had with him.
  • Flight of Romance: Done metaphorically (maybe) when Mia and Sebastian break into the Griffith Observatory's Plantarium theater and end up dancing in mid-air among thousands of stars.
  • Foreshadowing: One lyric in "Another Day of Sun" could be seen as hinting about Mia and Sebastian's fate together.
    "Cause maybe in that sleepy town
    He'll sit one day, the lights go down
    He'll see my face and think of how he used to know me."
  • Genre Throwback: To old-fashioned Hollywood jazz musicals (but with a modern story and setting).
  • Hollywood California: The film wears its location on its sleeve, with several standard Hollywood house parties, several scenes on movie backlots and discussions on movie history, and a plethora of struggling artists trying to make it. The opening number even reflects on the large number of people coming to the city to make it in film. The rest of the movie is one big love letter to Los Angeles, and long-time residents can make a game out of identifying all of the locations in the film.
  • Homage: Both Mia and Keith feel that this is a major problem with Sebastian's love of jazz music. Mia points out that little to no one would be able to understand what "Chicken on a Stick" is a reference to and would drive away possible patrons if Sebastian gave his future club that name. Keith points out that jazz music, an endangered genre, will never become revivified if it's firmly rooted in tradition.
  • Idiot Ball: The quick glimpse of Mia's e-mail invitation to the "So Long, Boulder City" show reveals that she made a number of errors that all but ensured the recipients wouldn't take it seriously. She doesn't use a BCC, a major no-no with a list of contacts that long. The subject line makes her name the big selling point despite no one in the business knowing who she is, and she offers hardly any information on what the show is actually about, apparently assuming that a bunch of Hollywood people would be glad to take time out of their busy days just on her non-existent name recognition.
  • Imagine Spot: The epilogue, when Mia imagines what life would have been like with Sebastian in an idealized, perfect way.
  • Implausible Deniability: In a fit of pretension, Sebastian refers to himself as a "serious musician," something Mia points out is as ridiculous as being called a "serious firefighter." Two seconds after he says it, Sebastian claims he can't remember saying it. He tries to change the subject by pointing out Mia can't judge him from all the way up in her barista job, only for Sebastian's goofy, embarrassing band member to walk up and boss him around. Once the band member leaves, Sebastian tries to deny he just took orders from a fan of A Flock of Seagulls because Sebastian lets him do it.
  • Irony: Intentionally invoked in the opening number, "Another Day of Sun," which features over a hundred drivers breaking into a song-and-dance routine about their joyful dreams of succeeding in Los Angeles... while stuck in gridlock on the freeway, going nowhere fast. It's doubly ironic because it's 'Another Day of Sun'... in Winter.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Sebastian's boss at the club where he and Mia meet. Not letting him play anything he wants is strict, and it's understandable that Sebastian would be annoyed by this, but firing Sebastian when he refuses to stick to the setlist, after being specifically told to do so, with some indication that this is not the first time this is happened? After he's already rather generously hired Sebastian back after firing him once before for going off the setlist? That sounds entirely fair.
    • Also Keith, though his modern style is seen by Seb as an insult to "true jazz", is pretty much right when he reminds the protagonist that culture moves always forward, and it's impossible to make jazz popular again unless you stop being a traditionalist.
    • Sebastian, despite his arrogance and snobbish disdain for evolving jazz, makes a good point when he says that 'LA worships everything and values nothing'.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The third time they meet, Sebastian mocks Mia for lacking success to move beyond becoming a waitress, only for his cringey band member to walk up and give him orders. Sebastian tries to deny that he takes orders from him as Mia revels in his embarrassment.
  • Leitmotif: "Mia & Sebastian's Theme", appropriately enough, which return again and again throughout the film, played in different styles to represent the moods and shifts of their relationship.
  • Let's Duet: "A Lovely Night" and "City of Stars", between Mia and Sebastian.
  • Love Triangle: Between Mia, Sebastian, and their aspirations.
  • Logo Joke: The Summit Entertainment logo gets an appropriate 1950's-esque redesign.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Sebastian has been noted to be a rare genderswapped version of this trope, spending a lot of time making sure that down-on-her-luck Mia feels as safe, supported, and encouraged to follow her ambitions as possible, with his own dreams of opening the jazz club usually secondary to the narrative against Mia's dreams, as the plot follows her story more.
  • Mean Boss: Bill, the boss of Lipton's restaurant, played deliciously by J. K. Simmons. Not only does he browbeat Sebastian into playing only trite Christmas songs without any room for improvisation or variety, but he fires Sebastian after the latter plays one gentle jazz piece.
    Bill: You're fired.
    Sebastian: It's Christmas.
    Bill: Yeah, I see the decorations. Good luck in the new year.
  • Meaningful Echo: Towards the beginning of the film, Mia is working in the coffee shop on the Warner Bros lot when an unnamed but obviously famous star enters and orders a coffee. Mia and her co-worker serve her, and say that it's on the house, but she says "Oh no, I insist," and pays for it and leaves; we see her going outside and re-entering her golf cart on her way to whatever set she's working at. At the end of the film, Mia, now a famous star, enters the same coffee shop and orders two coffees. She is offered them on the house, but she says "Oh no, I insist", pays, leaves a tip, and goes out to her own golf cart. The meaningful difference is that one coffee's for her, and the other one's for her driver.
  • Minor Character, Major Song: "Start a Fire," the concert-opening song played by the jazz band led by Sebastian's longtime friend Keith.
  • Moment Killer: Used to exaggerated effect. Just as Sebastian and Mia are about to kiss during the screening of Rebel Without a Cause... the film reel burns up, and they decide to seek a different place (the Griffith Observatory, just like the film they just watched) to have their kiss.
  • Nice Guy: Keith is consistently courteous, even to those who disagree with him.
    • David as well, who appears to be a pleasant, patient man and a good husband and father.
  • The Oner: All of the film's big musical numbers are either this or edited together to look like this. Crowd Song "Another Day of Sun" is an excellent example; the entire scene is six minutes long, and even though it's actually three shots connected by Whip Pans, each of those shots are very long and impressive by themselves, and comprise not only of the song but also the establishing shot beforehand and about a minute of Mia and Sebastian's initial Meet Cute. The amount of camera movement is in contrast to recent major live-action movie musicals, such as The Phantom of the Opera (2004) and Les Misérables (2012), which often had very static cameras during their musical numbers.
  • Principles Zealot: Sebastian is this in regards to jazz, not only engaging in a personal crusade to restore its popularity, but even turning up his nose at attempts to modernize it to appeal to a younger audience.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The scene in which Mia gets interrupted in the middle of her audition is based on a real occurrence with Ryan Gosling. While in the middle of an emotionally powerful audition, the casting director took a phone call. They then said, "You can pick up where you left off."
  • Romantic False Lead: Greg is a barely-there version, seeing as the film's marketing leaves zero suspense about whom Mia will end up with. When Mia meets Sebastian she's been dating Greg for a short time, and after she runs off in the middle of a date he's never heard from again.
  • Running Gag: Sebastian honking his car horn very obnoxiously at Mia. It's how they first meet, although neither seem to remember it later. Later, he does it whenever he picks her up for a date.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When Mia believes that her show has failed and she's become a laughing stock who can't even pay back the theatre for hosting her work, she instantly gives up and tells Sebastian that she's going back to Nevada. It takes a lot of convincing from Sebastian (and a well-timed call from a casting director) to bring her back.
  • Second-Act Breakup: What starts off as a romantic surprise dinner escalates into a shouting argument and tears when Mia admits she's unsure if her play will succeed and Sebastian admits he only joined Keith's band (and compromised his principles for pure jazz) because he thought that was what she wanted.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Both Sebastian and Mia show off their interests through their knowledge of music and cinema.
      • Sebastian name-drops several jazz musicians and wants his jazz bar to be named after one.
      • Mia has a giant poster of Ingrid Bergman in her bedroom and shows Sebastian a window to a building that was seen in Casablanca.
    • The constant visual references to movie musicals in the background of musical numbers as seen here.
    • The movie itself being filmed in Cinemascope was confirmed as a shout out to 1950s' movie musicals too.
    • Keith's band, The Messengers, harkens to 60s-80s funk, soul, and RNB bands like The Spinners, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Temptations, The Ohio Players, et cetera that all took a lot of inspiration from jazz.
  • Silent Snarker: If Sebastian is at the keys (where he'd have no opportunity to speak) and is asked to play (or do) something he feels is beneath him, the displeasure will show on his face.
  • Smash to Black: As the crowd cheers on Sebastian's band, The Messengers, it suddenly cuts to "Fall" with an abrupt stop to the cheering.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Aside from a love of jazz, La La Land serve as the antithesis to Whiplash, Damien Chazelle's previous film. This is most notable in the two films' tones - where Whiplash was dark and oppressive with a tinge of Black Comedy, La La Land is a bright, sparkling, old-fashioned Hollywood musical with just a hint of modern cynicism. Even the one narrative twist they have in common (career interests ruin the main love story) is presented very differently: Andrew Neiman drives Nicole away from him due to his obsession with jazz and even after the big concert will still die young and a miserable wreck just like the men he idolised, while Mia and Sebastian get exactly what they want out of their careers even if they don't end up together. There's even a counterpart in the characters of J.K. Simmons, going to a mean guy who's a jazz maniac to a mean guy who doesn't want to hear any jazz from Sebastian.
  • Starving Artist: Mia, Sebastian, and virtually the entire supporting cast of characters. When the movie starts, Mia is sharing an apartment with three other girls, while Sebastian is living in a threadbare apartment and taking gigs in dingy bars to get by.
  • Take Our Word for It: Mia's one-woman play, "So Long, Boulder City". As opposed to Sebastian repeatedly showcasing his piano playing and dancing, the audience never actually sees any of the play beyond a single page of written dialogue and Mia walking onto the stage at the beginning to speak. Also subverted — while her performance was apparently so good that it attracted the attention of a major casting director (and leads to an audition where her monologue/song is shown in full), it also caused two stagehands to criticize it behind Mia's back.
  • Take That!: Mia sees Sebastian performing at a party after he rudely shoved her away in the restaurant. She decides to get back at him in the cruelest way possible: requesting his band plays "I Ran."
    "Requesting "I Ran" from a serious musician is just-it's too far."
  • Theme Naming: Three of the musical numbers are named after (or associated with) periods of the day. The opening number "Another Day of Sun", "A Lovely Night", and the melancholy "City of Stars".
  • Totally Radical: Played for Laughs; at the end of a string of auditions for bad roles, Mia painfully reads the line "No, you be trippin'."
  • Two-Timer Date: Mia runs out on a dinner date with Greg to go see Rebel Without a Cause with Sebastian. Later subverted, when Sebastian attends a photo shoot with his band and misses the premiere of Mia's one-woman stage show.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Keith. His offer to Sebastian is the start of his relationship's downfall.
  • Wham Line: "You're just an actress." The silence between Mia and Sebastian indicates Sebastian knows he went too far. It's even given an appropriate visual metaphor with the dish Sebastian was cooking in the oven burning and setting off the smoke alarm.
  • Wham Shot: The five years Time Skip in the epilogue shows Mia becoming a famous celebrity living happily in a large villa. When she got home, she walks over to and kisses her husband... who is not Sebastian, having a little child with him to boot.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The final scene of the movie jumps five years into the future to show that Mia and Sebastian are no longer together, but that Mia has become a big movie star and is now Happily Married with a child, while Sebastian has finally opened his jazz club which is a success.

"Here's to the ones who dream
Foolish, as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that ache
Here's to the mess we make..."

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