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Movie Review: “La La Land”

In the spirit of Oscars season, a review of a classic Oscar winner…
Perrone, Sara

I’ve seen my fair share of movies, but none of them compare to the masterpiece La La Land. La La Land is about two artists trying to make their mark on the world, specifically Hollywood. Mia is an aspiring actress who is waiting for her big break, but is passing her time working at a coffee shop. Sebastian is a jazz musician, looking to revive jazz. The story of them is inspiring yet heartbreaking. La La Land captures the beauty of love and passion through the use of colors, music, and nostalgia. I will be spoiling most of the movie in this, so be warned…

La La Land takes place in modern day Los Angeles. This modern feel is mixed with a sense of nostalgia as we are getting a glimpse into the old Hollywood style. Not only was the film quality meant to give this effect, but there are also many references to old Hollywood. Throughout the film, Mia would often talk about her love for old movies. Casablanca was referenced as Mia and Sebastian walked past a famous window. On their first date they watched a screening of Rebel Without a Cause. Following the date, they went to the Griffith Observatory where the movie was also filmed. There were more hidden allusions to old Hollywood throughout the film. Instead of flat out saying or seeing the movie, it was covered up by referencing plot points. Back to when Mia and Sebastian formerly met, Sebastian was performing with an 80s cover band that resembles Don and Kathy in Singin’ in the Rain. An even more subtle reference was a little after this scene. During the musical number, A Lovely Night, Sebastian is seen twirling around a light pole, which references the very famous scene where Kelly is doing the same. 

A beautiful reference that is often not noticed, is back at the Griffith Observatory. Sebastian and Mia had just left their movie date to move over to the observatory. During this scene instrumentals play as the two waltz around the building. Stars, planets, and constellations begin to dance with them as the two gracefully float. The observatory vanishes behind them, while they dance in the night sky.  If we go back 57 years, we can see a very similar scene in Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Aurora and Prince Philip are dancing together in the ballroom after finally being reunited. Slowing the ballroom disappears behind them, and they too dance in the sky. 

The old Hollywood references are not the only thing that makes this movie special. La La Land has a way with colors. The use of colors throughout the movie represent the relationship between Sebastian and Mia and with their careers. When they first meet all of the colors are bright and fun. During the song “Someone in the Crowd”, Mia and her three roommates are all seen in very bright colors: yellow, red, blue, and green. Mia wore blue; in the movie this color represents creativity and old Hollywood. Mia is seen in blue much more in the beginning rather than the end. When Mia and Sebastian meet, she is also seen wearing blue. A color switch for Mia is at the pool party, where she wears a bright yellow dress. Yellow represents optimism. This is where she formally meets Sebastian. Throughout the time Mia is with Sebastian her colors remain bright and vibrant. As their relationship and their passions become hard to juggle, Mia’s colors change. She starts to wear more realistic items. Stripes, denim, and white shirts. This was a purposeful choice to represent how the “La La Land” she was in before is turning into reality. A reality where rejection is bound to happen, people may not be meant for each other, and where dreams may not come true. 

Sebastian’s colors are a bit different. In the beginning of the movie we see him in a red car honking at Mia in her blue car. Red represents passion and perseverance. Sebastian’s whole characters purpose was to be stubborn, as he was stuck in the old way of things. You can see this with his old red Cadillac he drives and how he goes on about jazz. He was unable to see how you can allow for jazz to be more modern without ruining it. When he was playing at the restaurant, he wore a blue suit. As I mentioned before, blue represents creativity and in this scene he really embodied it. Sebastian steered from playing Christmas music to his own piece (Mia’s & Sebastian’s theme). He was restricted from the freedom of expressing himself, yet he defied it, thus bringing him back to the stubborn red he is seen in a few scenes later. He and Mia formally meet while he is in a red jumpsuit at the pool party. He takes himself as a serious musician yet he was playing keyboard for an 80s cover band. Sebastian’s colors change briefly as we see him in more yellows and blue. Mia allowed for him to challenge himself and see different sides of jazz. 

And finally: the music. The music changes alongside the colors. In the beginning of this classic musical, we have the brighter songs. Another “Day of Sun” is the opener of the film; the scene shows a bunch of cars all stuck in traffic. Singers and dancers get out of their car in bright clothes. It is a huge musical number filled with various instruments. You can hear each instrument as they all have their moments to shine. The contrast in dynamics, passed from woodwinds to brass to percussion, gives the scene such a bright feeling. It leaves the audience joyful and looking for more. The next number is “Someone in the Crowd”, which is another bigger number. This one follows the girls as they get ready to go out and meet people hoping to make the right connections. “Someone in the Crowd” is also joyful, as they are all hoping to make it in the industry. And this person in the crowd is supposed to help them. The instruments have an element of jazz as the brass and percussion are really prominent, yet the woodwinds play a big part as well. There is also a more reflective part to the song that Mia sings. It shows her true passion and longing to make it, how she believes it is more than a phone number she needs. Mia wants to feel like she made it, she wants it to be personal, and not just a circus act. 

Once Sebastian and Mia meet, most of the music numbers revolve around them. Mia and Sebastian’s theme is played at the restaurant Sebastian was paid to perform Christmas music at. He gets carried away and starts to play a personal piece. It starts off slow and peaceful, repeating same lines, but changing a few notes. The piece then becomes more intense, and he adds a swing to it. He mixes it with jazz and classical music, creating a distinct and moving piece. While this is happening, Mia steps into the restaurant. The piece represents them, as it is the name. Their story is beautiful and almost perfect. Then it is interrupted by Sebastian’s own twist, which can be seen in the movie as it plays out. Following is a “Lovely Night”, where the two formerly meet. They have some tension at first, since when they originally met Sebastian ignored Mia. Now they are walking back from a party and stop to watch the sun set over Los Angeles. The song is about how this perfect night is not meant for them. It is a pre falling in love kind of song. They sing of how they have “no shot”, and they’re not each others’ types. Other than the fun and bantering lyrics, the dance moves are beautiful as well. The last two songs are “City of Stars” and “Audition” (The Fools Who Dream). “City of Stars” is sung first by Sebastian after he and Mia spend the day together. He walks along a pier, only accompanied by piano as he sings. He sings of how the “City of Stars” is his new relationship with Mia. It is shining just for him, in a way that this could be the one. He ends the song lyrically on a down note: “That I can not make true”. He worries that he and Mia may be one of the many things that will stay a dream rather than reality. Mia and Sebastian both sing this song later together by the piano. The idea that they’re both singing together, confirms that this was not just a “dream.”

The final song I will talk about is “Audition” (The Fools Who Dream). All of the songs can make you feel some sort of way, but this song is for the dreamers. This song differs from the rest. At this point in the movie, Mia and Sebastian are no longer together, yet he encourages her to go to this audition. She gets in the room with the casting directors and starts to reminisce about her aunt. Her aunt was her main source of inspiration to become an actress. She starts to sing of her aunts adventures and how she was so confident. The song is powerful as we are brought back to the idea of “dreaming.” This song is full of passion, longing, and reflection. She longs to be like her aunt, she acknowledges the “dreamers” who are along side her just trying to make something for herself. The song starts off soft and grows into this passionate moving song. It was perfect for being the last song of this wonderful film. 

La La Land is the work of a true genius.

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About the Contributor
Olivia Yagnisis
Olivia Yagnisis, Vice President
Meet Olivia Yagnisis. This is her first year back writing for The Gull since 7th grade. In her senior year she will hold the position of Vice President of The Gull. Olivia has had a love for writing since the 9th grade and enjoys having the option to write freely with The Gull. Her main passions include: the flute, music, making jewelry, and writing. She doesn’t have any specific themes she plans on writing this year, but stay tuned for her future pieces.

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