There are not one but two romances at the heart of the feelgood musical La La Land, which with five Bafta wins and 13 Oscar nominations is the awards season’s most acclaimed film.
The first is of course the year-long affair between the two leads – purist jazz musician Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, and struggling actress Mia, played by Emma Stone. But the other, eternal affection that softly smoulders at the heart of the film is cinema’s love for its spiritual home, Los Angeles.
Unsurprisingly, the film’s director, Damien Chazelle, is an LA native. His breakthrough film, 2014’s Oscar-nominated Whiplash, which told the story of another aspiring jazz musician, was set in New York but filmed almost entirely around the Southern Californian city. His follow-up is even more autobiographical. “La La Land is about the city I live in, it’s about the music that I grew up playing, it’s about movies that I grew up watching,” Chazelle said in a recent interview.
The city of angels is no stranger to leading roles in the movies. From Roman Polanski’s Chinatown to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, directors have often moved between the extremes of America’s second city – the gated opulence of the Hollywood Hills contrasted with the seedier dives downtown.
With La La Land, though, Chazelle manages to make the urban sprawl, filmed across 48 locations over 42 days, seem newly inviting. Viewing the city through the eyes of his protagonists, he takes a softer, more natural perspective. So it looks more gently sun-dappled than darkly dangerous, elevating the romance found in ordinary locations.
“There’s something to be said for unrealistic dreams,” said Chazelle. “Even if the dreams don’t come true – that to me is what’s beautiful about Los Angeles. It’s full of people who have moved there to chase dreams. A lot of those people are told by people around them that they’re crazy, or that they’re living in ‘la la land’. I wanted to make a movie that saluted them a little bit, and that kind of unrealistic state of mind.”
Los Angeles County incorporates 88 cities and La La Land highlights some of the best spots to explore. Follow in the dancing footsteps of Sebastian and Mia around these four locations immortalised in the film.
1. GRIFFITH PARK