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
While Los Angeles has a reputation for urban sprawl, La La Land director Damien Chazelle highlights the pockets of natural beauty to be found around the city. The 4,300-acre Griffith Park in the Los Feliz district is where Mia and Sebastian first break into dance at Cathy’s Corner, against the breathtaking views of the San Fernando Valley twinkling below. The observatory at the summit of Mt Hollywood Drive (pictured below), built in 1935, also stars as the spot where Mia and Sebastian literally dance among the stars. It is the perfect place to look down on the famous Hollywood sign, Downtown and the Pacific Ocean.
While waiting for her big break, Mia works in a coffee bar on the Warner Brother Studios lot. The café is fictional but the working production complex is just one of the many big Hollywood studios operating in Burbank, which is known as “the media capital of the world”. You can take a guided tour, which is considered one of the best (prices start from $62 per adult) and afterwards enjoy lunch nestled into the red leather booths at the Smoke House restaurant, where Sebastian’s piano-playing first catches Mia’s attention.
3. HERMOSA BEACH
Home to one of the last surviving West Coast jazz clubs from the 1950s, the beach-front Lighthouse Café has seen performances by Chet Baker and Miles Davis. Naturally, this is where Sebastian takes Mia to initiate her into his musical obsession. Later on at the pier (pictured above), which extends 1,000ft into the Pacific Ocean, he woos Mia with one of the film’s standout songs, City of Stars.
Northeast of the main choke of LA, the city of Pasadena is a great spot to revel in old California. In the genteel atmosphere of oak-lined streets, La La Land swoons over the Colorado Street Bridge, built in 1913. This concrete landmark, known more sadly as Suicide Bridge, looks almost Parisian with its Beaux Arts arches, light standards and railings. The beautiful structure spans nearly a third of a mile over the Arroyo Seco, or dry stream canyon linking the San Gabriel Mountains to the Los Angeles River. Nearby, the couple watch Rebel without a Cause, the 1955 James Dean film also shot in LA, at the now sadly closed Rialto Theatre.
Radio Times Travel holidays:
Tour California & the Golden West, 14 nights from £1849pp. The sights and amazing natural wonders just roll off the tongue, with probably nothing more aptly named than the Grand Canyon. Then there’s Monument Valley, whose towering sandstone pillars are immortalised in countless Westerns, the Painted Desert, Yosemite, the astonishing national parks of Bryce Canyon and Zion and the lofty snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Combine these with the allure of such genuinely unique cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas and you have a destination that simply cannot be matched! Click here for the itinerary and to book