“People love what other people are passionate about. You remind them of what they’ve forgotten.” – Mia (Emma Stone)
What’s in a dream? It’s the gap between fantasy and reality. It’s what makes us human. The ability to imagine a better future and then maybe, one day, if we work hard enough, make it true.
The cinema has always been a theatre of dreams; a bolthole in which to escape from our daily lives. Even the grittiest, most realist film offers life filtered through a lens, cut and shaped to present the most perfect possible version of that thought or theme. At least that’s the dream.
Few films have captured that impulse better than La La Land, Damian Chazelle’s musical masterpiece. He bottles dreams like the BFG and stretches them into a double-layered film; an escapist fantasy which questions its own blueprint on how to become reality.
Glanced at from start to finish, La La Land is the tale of how two aspiring artists find each other and follow their wildest dreams. But beneath those broad strokes is a sketch of unglamorous reality: of failures, sacrifices and bloody hard work.
For the first 15 minutes of La La Land, reality is a shambles, dragged down by spilled coffees, brutal auditions, towed cars and all manner of minor, monumental humiliations. It’s a perfect mess – an exaggerated compendium of failure – because it is of course a film, and films are fantasy even when they’re reality. But a mess it certainly is, not too dissimilar from any bad day you might have had lately. The only exception is the opening scene.
How many moments of pure, unalloyed joy do you get each day? Maybe laughing at a friend’s joke, or taking that first bite of the cake you probably shouldn’t have bought at lunch? Treat yourself. Watch the opening scene of La La Land and witness raw happiness spilling across every inch of your screen.
It sets the aspirational mood of the film as a city of dreamers abandon their gridlocked cars to sing about “climbing these hills”, “reaching for the heights” and “chasing all the lights that shine”. Most of their dance moves are simple enough for the average viewer to conceivably pull off after a little practice, adding to the feeling that these are ordinary people just like you or me, dreaming of a better future.
Mia’s terrible day concludes with another song, ‘Someone in the Crowd’, that turns her feeling sorry for herself into an exuberant, seductive anthem accompanying her assault on the industry. In this world, everything starts to make sense when the music plays. Life’s irritations fade and everything becomes smoother, cleaner, more dramatic or idealised. A minute ago Mia was feeling chewed up and spat out by Hollywood, but when the song is in full flight, tinsel town is at her mercy. This shift is made even clearer afterwards by Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia’s mid-song meet cute as the second the music stops playing their connection is lost.
The songs in La La Land work as dreams within dreams, moments of aspiration for our aspirational heroes. When Chazelle shifts to these idealised song-and-dance spectaculars he’s not just showing the audience what Seb and Mia’s dreams look like, he’s showing us how we too view art and culture as escapist fantasies.
Does this self-awareness muddy the water and dilute the raw power of what this film could have been? Perhaps it would’ve been stronger embracing its innocent love of creativity, performance and self-expression. But it would have also been far less complex, far less inclusive, and far less hopeful.
The biggest problem with dreams is how unattainable they are. Who hasn’t dreamed of becoming an actor or musician, a writer or a director? But with time and with failure those big dreams fade, to be replaced by everyday dreams that are no less important for being small. Dreams you’ll get that promotion, dreams that relative will get better soon, dreams that person will catch your eye like you’ve always wanted them to.
La La Land is about the act of dreaming itself, and all the ineffable human optimism bound up in that. When we dream we say that things can be better, no matter how unlikely it seems. It’s an act of belief, and all it needs to become true is believers.
It’s a romantic, perhaps naïve, idea – but then as Seb says: “why do you say romantic like it’s a dirty word?” Most of our dreams go unfulfilled, but that’s no reason to stop, because the act itself drives us on to bigger and better things. Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.
N.B. As our site is UK based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas in the UK in 2017.
So to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 6…
20th – LADY MACBETH
19th – JACKIE
18th – LOGAN
17th – O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
16th – PADDINGTON 2
15th – A GHOST STORY
14th – THE BIG SICK
13th – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
12th – BLADE RUNNER 2049
11th – THOR: RAGNAROK
10th – THE DEATH OF STALIN
9th – CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
8th – TONI ERDMANN
7th – THE HANDMAIDEN
6th – LA LA LAND
Stay tuned each and every day for the remainder of 2017 to read more on our Top 10 films of 2017!