Like the good Jews that we are, my Grandma and I spent Christmas this year at the movies. Our film of choice was La La Land, admittedly selected more so because it stars Ryan Gosling than because we expected it to be an amazing movie (honestly, despite seeing approximately 8 million commercials over the past month, I really didn’t know what the movie was even about). I’ve always believed that when a movie is over-hyped, which La La Land undeniably has been, it tends to fall short of expectations. However, this film is an exception to that rule; I loved it so much that I saw it again a few days later with my fellow Fishie Andie. It really is that good. On its surface, La La Land is a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood that pays homage to classic cinema. However, when you dig a little deeper it’s obvious the story of these two kids who dared to dream has a message that resonates far more with the modern millennial generation.
Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, two incredibly likeable actors who are basically the human equivalent of golden retriever puppies, La La Land tells the story of two 20-somethings living in Los Angeles and struggling to make ends meet while they chase their dreams. Mia has dreamt of becoming an actress since she was a child, and after dropping out of college to pursue her dream, she finds herself six years later working as a barista and still going on audition after audition trying to land her big break. Similarly, the talented jazz pianist Sebastian gets by playing holiday tunes for disinterested patrons at restaurants across the city, dreaming of one day owning a jazz bar of his own but unclear on how to turn that dream into a reality.
In other words, both of the characters’ narratives are driven by their refusal to give up on their dreams and conform to the path society has said they should follow – even in the face of failure. In some ways it’s a tale as old as time, but La La Land was released at a perfect time in modern history where much of the up-and-coming generation is splitting with tradition and prioritizing passion. Unlike their parents, most millennials were greeted with a recession and unpaid internships following graduation. Corporate America turning its back on the millennial generation meant that 20-somethings had to get creative and look elsewhere for a way to get by, and for many that gave them an opportunity to pursue a passion or work for a company they truly believe in. As this article from Vice points out, millennials’ earnest striving for jobs that fulfill us, partners who complete us, life choices that signify we give a damn about something, may seem privileged and impractical. We’re too wide-eyed for our own good, and we’ve had the luxury of delaying adulthood because we’ve had opportunities other generations didn’t. But those opportunities don’t make it any easier to wrestle with decisions that determine the rest of our lives, and the film’s bittersweet ending explores the consequences of the choices we make.
Ultimately, La La Land is far more than your average boy-meets-girl story; it’s a story of idealists holding onto their convictions at all costs. The film’s love story is beautiful and intimate, but never takes center stage, which mirrors the millennial existence of prioritizing passion and ambition over marriage and the traditional “American Dream.” In the words of Mia – here’s to the ones that dream, foolish as they may seem.