There was a time when Hollywood churned out multiple versions of the same story.
Boy meets girl. Girl and boy hate each other. Boy and girl have stars in their eyes for fame and fortune. Boy and girl find each other again and love blooms. All of this taking place with music, singing and dancing.
Hollywood stopped making those movies, but Damien Chazelle, who gave us the wonderful “Whiplash,” brings this story back with “La La Land.”
The movie begins in L.A. traffic. There is a standstill and the freeway becomes a parking lot. That parking lot becomes a dance floor, and drivers leave their cars to sing and dance about their hopes and dreams.
Within this traffic jam is Mia (Emma Stone), a barista on the Warner Brothers lot, who is really a struggling actress who spends time hustling from one audition to another.
Also here in the traffic is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a pianist with a religious attachment to jazz. He spends his time playing in clubs and dinner parties, trying to not allow his prejudice for jazz to overtake his employer’s wishes.
Their relationship begins with tension, as Mia gives Sebastian the finger when he honks at her for not moving when the traffic begins to break up.
As the movie develops, we see how their paths begin to cross and, as they do, the relationship begins and blooms.
As time passes, we see how the two grow together and how their love for each other begins to encourage the other to take risks and opportunities.
An opportunity comes to Sebastian when his friend, Keith (John Legend), offers him the chance to play keyboards in the band that he is forming.
Sebastian does not want to do this, but Mia encourages him. She knows that he dreams of having a club of his own where he can play jazz for the masses. Mia knows that Sebastian can use this to help make that dream possible.
This eventually creates relationship problems when the band becomes a hit and that takes Sebastian away from Mia. There is distance coming between them.
Mia, on the other hand, moves from acting to writing. Sebastian tells her she needs to find her own voice and he encourages her.
She writes a one-woman play, but it does not do well. She feels rejected and decides to go back home and give up on her dream.
What “La La Land” does well is to wed the music and dance to this basic story of love.
It also reminds the viewer of something my father used to say, “You need to be careful what you wish for. You may get it.”
There is a current of life in the movie that is much like the current of life that people find in success. The current of success that drives us forward can also drive us apart.
This is a retelling of stories one has heard before. What makes this one so memorable are the performances of Gosling and Stone.
Both are excellent at the song and dance aspects of the movie. The dance sequence in the Griffith Observatory is stellar.
But what makes this work deeper is the chemistry between the two. Both will be nominated for Oscars and they deserve these.
Yet, even with the performances there is the work of writer and director Chazelle.
He uses the old CinemaScope lens, which makes the screen show us larger images. The widescreen is filled with the backdrop of Los Angeles. We get to inhabit, for a moment, this world where dreamers and lovers walk in hopes of making it to the stars.
The aspect of dreams and hopes is something the church would be well served to think about. How do we speak to the dreams of others? Do we encourage them? Do we tell them to fit into our preconceived notions of what is or should be?
Mia and Sebastian are examples of every person. All of us have or had dreams. We either reach them or settle for something less than.
How do we speak to these who are either struggling to find the realization of a dream or who have lost the dream and now live with nothing more than the ghost of what could have been?
I give “La La Land” my highest recommendation. Go see it and continue to dream, or dare to dream again.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language.
Writer and director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling (Sebastian), Emma Stone (Mia), J.K. Simmons (Bill), John Legend (Keith), Rosemary Dewitt (Laura).
The movie’s website is here.