I went with the family to see La La Land yesterday. They may as well just give it the Oscars (plural) now, because this one’s an instant classic, folks.
I was hesitant to write about it here because, after all, I’m a writer of sci-fi thrillers. But I’m also a lover of all things storytelling and an admirer of all forms of art and music, especially that which is done to perfection, which this is.
And yes, there are some lessons in this movie even for thriller writers.
La La Land is a magical, musical tale of two star-crossed lovers, an aspiring actress and an underemployed jazz pianist, trying to make ends meet and achieve their dreams in modern day Los Angeles.
This mesmerizingly beautiful film is an ode to LA, just as Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was an ode to Paris. But it’s also an ode to artists and creative types everywhere who are struggling to achieve their dreams. Likewise, it’s an ode to young love, trying to stay vibrant and alive when individual dreams threaten to get in the way. And it’s an ode to the great MGM musicals of the past, a daring aspiration that it achieves with honors.
The film is a stunning work of art, at times reminiscent of such Gene Kelly classics as An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain. However, it reminded me even more of another landmark film—The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, musically, visually, and thematically. La La Land even has a few nods to “Cherbourg,” including, if I’m not mistaken, a quick shot of the umbrella shop.
Not to be overlooked are the show-stopping performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, both of whom illuminate the screen like the stars of old—especially Stone, who emotes with her eyes and facial expressions like no other, aside from maybe Jennifer Lawrence.
As for valuable lessons that writers of thrillers and other genres can glean from this blissful example of filmmaking perfection, here are but a few:
- Vivid worlds and motifs can elevate a story to new heights – In this film, Los Angeles itself was a character, and an important one at that. As a writer, in what ways can you bring your story world to life, whether by its culture, it’s sights, smells and sounds, or its threats and opportunities?
- It’s all about the characters and their wants and needs – Whatever your plot, if the character wants and needs aren’t clear (and often, they have no idea what their real needs are), everything else will be diluted. It’s the struggle between their wants and needs, their external and internal desires, the lies they tell themselves and the truths they need to learn that truly drive a story.
- The antagonist doesn’t always have to be a villain – Every story needs conflict. In this story, the primary conflict came from the two artists’ struggles in the often cruel world of LA, compounded by their individual internal struggles trying to balance their dreams with their relationship. Of course, some genres typically do include a human antagonist, but even then, adding the internal obstacles, obstacles from the environment, and moral dilemmas can enrich the story that much more.
- Stick with your dream and stay connected – If nothing else, take away the lesson from the film that we only live once. Don’t give up your dreams, Stick with it. And in the process, remember not to lose sight of what drives us to begin with—the need for connection and love.
Bottom line: Whether you typically like musicals or not, La La Land is worth seeing as a shining example of a powerful and all-too-rare work of original art that will take you away to another world for two hours. I urge you to take a chance and see it.
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