La La Land

La La Land

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Adjusting to breakups, navigating work-life balance, managing anxiety and determining whether to remain in a current romantic relationship are some common urban stressors that lead people to therapy. Writer and director Damien Chazelle’s lyrical love story La La Land explores these psychologically complex struggles with compassion and integrity. Nominated for 7 Golden Globes, La La Land juxtaposes modern characters in a nostalgic tribute to the classic Hollywood romances of yesteryear. The tale is simple yet grand, and combines glorious romantic gestures, sudden outbreaks into song and dance, and unexpected surges of superpowers such as floating to amplify the starry-eyed love story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Their chemistry is palpable, so fans of Crazy, Stupid Love will not feel disappointed with this luscious reunion.

Los Angeles glows as a magical, scenic backdrop to this whimsical, romantic whirlwind. Love is in the air – even when Mia and Sebastian first collide on the compressed, congested highway and Sebastian gives Mia the finger! Perhaps the finest throwback of the film is its dramatic limitation of cell phone use. When characters run late for dates or can’t find one another, they do not text or Google search. Instead they race around in high heels, drive through the night and use their imagination. The absence of technology amplifies the romantic tension. Viewers are left longing for a time when romantic narratives were not dumbed down by smartphones.

La La Land presents difficult questions about the relationship between professional integrity, financial security and conventional success.  Even more pressing is the duo’s provocative portrayal of the challenges of juggling professional opportunities and romantic love.  A common psychological challenge is explored – with every decision we gain things, but we also give things up in the process. Mia and Sebastian exude attraction and enjoy a snappy repartee.  Jazz music is cast as the film’s effervescent love language. Sebastian describes Jazz with gusto: “It’s conflict and it’s compromise and it’s very, very exciting!” These passionate words are as much about the love story as they are about the tunes, as the music eloquently supplies the film’s romantic metaphor.

When struggles related to breakups, work-life balance, anxiety and relationship elasticity present in therapy, the underlying resolution tends to center around emotional maturity. What exactly is emotional maturity? According to systems theory, it is the ability to be intimate with others while simultaneously experiencing one’s self as a truly grounded self. The ability to affirm one’s self without over-emphasizing what others might think is essential to emotional maturity. Sebastian is passionate about authentic jazz, but his professional nemesis (played by John Legend!) warns that jazz is dying and must be updated to suit modern sensibilities. Mia (an aspiring actress) is rejected in countless auditions and strains to summon the ego strength to continue. She creates a one-woman show and faces the possibility that no one will buy a ticket.

What makes this love-story rich and complex is the understanding that in order to sustain romantic intimacy, the psychological task is to navigate such daily struggles while remaining emotionally mature enough to be vulnerable in life, work and love. To do so, one must be able to affirm oneself without overemphasizing what others might think. What happens along the way is a captivating, unexpected tale about why it is worth it to go the extra mile for the one you love.

Elisabeth LaMotte

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