Fishing for Dreamers: La La Land As Oscar Bait
"...This is the juiciest bit of bait for Oscar voters."
Some films are just plain fun. They’re not necessarily profound in that scales fall from your eyes and your vision of the world is expanded, but they still convey emotions and images that make you feel like your time and money was well spent.
That’s how I feel about La La Land. I think you should see it — its imagery is vivid and beautifully shot and its emotions are sincere and genuine. And, since it’s a musical, it has an element of fun and lightness that highlighted the potential of films to feel magical. But I wouldn’t say it’s a story that expanded my view of human experience: it’s a boy-meets-girl love story at its heart (nothing original), though it is particularly well executed, and the chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as romantic partners sells well.
La La Land is a love letter to film, to jazz, and to Los Angeles. It is a musical pageant, with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling playing the relatable “every person” characters, Mia and Seb, to draw us into the fantasy. But, importantly, as an aspiring actor and an aspiring musician respectively, they are most relatable to people in and around the film industry. Like all aspirational people in the entertainment industry, Mia and Seb have lofty goals of attaining stardom or financial success while maintaining their artistic merit.
Mia dreams of being a glamorous film actor while working as a barista and Seb dreams of owning an old-school jazz club while gigging as a pianist. La La Land is a film for people who consider themselves artists and dreamers who struggle, or have struggled, to find success doing what they love.
I’ll bet that a majority of Oscar voters at one point were struggling in obscurity before they became successful. I’ll also bet that the success they achieved looks different than what they imagined when they were first starting out. Fortunately for our protagonists, their success is exactly what they imagined. Mia becomes a successful and glamorous film actress, and Seb owns and performs in his hip jazz bar.
However, despite the fact that we just spent nearly two hours watching the romance between Mia and Seb grow from a spark to a flame to a cozy fire, their artistic career dreams are not compatible with their relationship. We see Mia and Seb run into each other at Seb’s jazz club and are shown a dream sequence where all the hiccups of their romance are smoothed over.
But, notably, only Mia’s dream is realized. Seb is supportive of Mia achieving success as an actor, but delays his dream in the process. This is the juiciest bit of bait for Oscar voters. Mia and Seb both achieved their dreams of artistic success, but to do it they had to sacrifice their happiness together, and I would argue they sacrificed their one shot at true happiness. And who in the entertainment industry hasn’t had to do that, at least a little bit?