The City of Angels is also the City of Broken Dreams.
Every barista hopes for stardom. Every backstreet-bar musician imagines making it big. Los Angeles is home to soaring, heavenly hopes … and to crushing disappointment when dreams die. And the difference between those two outcomes can perch on the knife edge of fate.
Mia is an aspiring actress (working, of course, at a coffee shop on a movie studio lot). Auditions are many. Call backs are few. And beautiful competitors lining up for the roles she hopes to land? Well, they’re as infinite as the stars in the sky.
Sebastian, meanwhile, is a virtuoso jazz pianist. But he doesn’t crave fame. His dream? To restore a famed jazz club in L.A. to its former glory. Except, well, no one really listens to jazz anymore. And even the people who do—like his friend Keith, who wants him join his more contemporary jazz fusion band—don’t play old-school tunes anyway.
So there they are: Mia killing time making lattes and writing a one-woman play she hopes to stage; and Sebastian pondering the surprisingly lucrative compromise that accepting Keith’s offer represents.
But in Los Angeles (and in the movies), struggling dreamers rarely struggle alone. So it’s not long before Mia and Sebastian’s paths cross in this old-fashioned musical, a song-and-dance-filled love letter to Hollywood’s Golden Age (albeit with a few content nods to the 21st century).
Mia and Sebastian fall in love. But what happens to their budding romance when their dreams actually begin to come true?
La La Land is a deeply romantic, lighthearted throwback that turns on the tension between two artists being drawn together by their mutual affection and simultaneously pulled apart by the success they find. The film doesn’t make any grand philosophical statements, but it does suggest that sometimes life forces us to make choices between pursuing a relationship and pursuing our vocational dreams.
Sebastian (rightly) senses that Mia’s mother doesn’t think much of him or his plan to open a jazz club. He’s motivated to take the gig with Keith in part because it pays well and will offer the couple more stability. Sebastian also goes to great lengths to help Mia get a part in the movie (albeit one that ultimately places huge strain on their relationship).
In a conversation with his sister, Sebastian says of his longsuffering attempts to make his dreams come true, “I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’m going to hit it back.” Sebastian simply oozes jazz, so much so that his passion for it sometimes gets him in trouble. Working as a restaurant pianist, for instance, he just can’t resist the impulse to sprinkle some jazz standbys in amid the Christmas carols he’s supposed to be playing. He knows he’ll get fired for doing so, but he does it anyway. The film frames this oppositional defiant choice as an expression of Sebastian’s integrity and romantic nature.
[Spoiler Warning] Mia and Sebastian eventually go their separate ways. Mia and Sebastian see each other years later, and Mia ponders what her relationship with Sebastian might’ve looked like. In the end, though, it’s clear that she’s able to remember the love that she and Sebastian shared without having it destabilize the relationship with the man she eventually marries.
One scene pictures a church.
Mia and Sebastian kiss. After she moves in with him, we see the couple in bed together (though not in a sexual way). She’s shown in a clingy nightie. We also see Mia kissing a wealthy boyfriend (before she and Sebastian get serious) with whom she obviously has little real chemistry. There’s some other kissing as well.
Mia’s shown wrapped in a towel (her shoulders are visible) after getting out of the shower. Bikini-clad women populate pool parties. Some women wear revealing outfits, including plunging tops and short dresses/skirts. An engaged couple kisses.
One f-word, four s-words. God’s name is misused eight times (including two pairings with “d–n”). One use of “my lord.” Three uses of “a–,” one use each of “a–hole,” “d–n” and “p-ss.” We see two crude hand gestures.
Characters drink wine, champagne, beer, etc., in various scenes, including one at a fairly raucous Hollywood party.
Sebastian and Mia sing a song in the famous Griffith Observatory at night. While it’s not clear that they broke in, it’s obviously after hours, because no one’s there.
La La Land features just enough content to merit its PG-13 rating and to remind us that we’re living in the 21st century. But apart from a handful of harsh profanities and a cohabitating couple, this song-filled, cynicism-free romance is about as old-fashioned as it gets these days.
Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) sing and dance, laugh and cry, then sing and dance some more. Their romance, which is always in tension with their individual dreams, dazzles and delights. A happily-ever-after ending of sorts eventually emerges, but not before we’re reminded of the potential relational costs of prioritizing our vocational dreams above all else.
The story, while not particularly deep, doesn’t rely on shock-and-awe special effects or shock-and-awe gross-out gags. Instead, director Damien Chazelle unleashes an old-school, tour de force musical, proving that that original, Oscar-worthy moviemaking—without R-rated gratuity—is actually still possible in Tinseltown.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.