Is La La Land Based on a True Story?

Image Credit: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

La La Land’ is a musical drama romance film that revolves around aspiring actress Amelia “Mia” Dolan (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian “Seb” Wilder (Ryan Gosling) and their pursuit of success in the Mecca of entertainment — Los Angeles, California. Although their first encounter involves an angry confrontation, the two quickly recognize they are dreamers. Mia wants to succeed in Hollywood, whereas Seb is determined to own a jazz club in the city. As a relationship develops between the two, Seb and Mia realize they will inevitably have to choose between their dreams and what they have with each other.

Directed by Damien Chazelle (‘Whiplash’), the winner of Six Academy Awards, including Best Director for Chazelle, Best Actress for Stone, and Best Original Score for Justin Hurwitz, the 2016 film is all about the struggle to realize big dreams and the people that inspire you along the way; that person can very well be your romantic partner. If you are wondering whether ‘La La Land’ is inspired by actual events, we got you covered.

Is La La Land a True Story?

No, ‘La La Land’ is not based on a true story, though elements of reality are embedded into its narrative, penned by Chazelle himself. While attending Harvard University in the late 2000s, Chazelle and his classmate Justin Hurwitz came up with the idea for the film and explored it in their senior thesis ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,’ a short musical about a jazz musician based in Boston. The film was originally supposed to be set in the City on a Hill, but in 2010, Chazelle and Hurwitz relocated to LA from the East Coast with certain preconceived notions, and the Californian city subsequently became the setting.

As per Chazelle, ‘La La Land’ is “a Hollywood movie – in the old sense of the term – that could still feel personal and different… That space where those two things can overlap has been feeling more and more endangered.” Sharing his love for the genre in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the writer-director said, “Now more than ever we need hope and romance on the screen, and I think there’s something about musicals that just get at something that only movies can do.”

He continued, “That idea of movies as a dreamland, movies as the language of our dreams and movies as a way of expressing a world in which you break into song, that emotions can violate the rules of reality.” Chazelle finished the screenplay in 2010, but it took him another six years to bring it to the screen. One of the reasons for his move to the City of Angels was to get ‘La La Land’ made. “There is something very poetic about the city I think, about a city that is built by people with these unrealistic dreams and people who kind of just put it all on the line for that,” he added.

Ultimately, the film became a love letter to the eponymous city and the celebration of artists such as Mia and Seb, who come there to fulfill their dreams. “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 told The Guardian. “Even the big spectacle of the movie feels private to me in that way.” The filmmaker drew inspiration from the 1920s urban-life documentaries such as ‘Manhattan’ and the silent documentary film ‘Man with a Movie Camera.’

While depicting the City of Angels, Chazelle chose to focus on the aspects which give the sprawling Southern Californian city a distinctive identity instead of forcefully making it a cheaper copy of places like San Francisco or Paris. As a result, the film begins with a musical number taking place amid the LA traffic, demonstrating how expansive the city is and how endless the sky above it seems. “We’ve established the tension of the movie right away, between really heightened musical fantasia and real, urban modern city,” Chazelle told The New York Times.

The writer-director added, “L.A., even more so than any other American city, obscures, sometimes neglects, its own history. But that can also be its own magical thing, because it’s a city that reveals itself bit by bit, like an onion, if you take the time to explore it.” Chazelle initially wanted to be a jazz drummer and has always loved musical films. The style and tone of ‘La La Land’ resemble those of the 1960s musicals such as ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ and ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort.’ In an interview with Deadline, the filmmaker recalled watching the former movie on a VHS tape.

“I had never seen a musical like that, a musical that was just as kind of high-flying as the sort of MGM style that it was borrowing from, but dealing with both the highs and lows, so to speak, trying to actually kind of reflect a somewhat more realistic version of life and how things don’t always work out in life,” Chazelle elaborated. “There’s something just so beautiful and poetic about it, and it’s still probably my favorite movie ever. So I feel like [‘La La Land’] kind of started there.”

‘La La Land’ is a visual homage to classic musicals like ‘Broadway Melody of 1940,’ ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ ‘The Band Wagon,’ and ‘An American in Paris,’ especially the last one, which Chazelle reportedly stated that they pillaged. Although Miles Teller and Emma Watson were initially attached to the project as the leads, they both eventually opted out, and Stone and Gosling stepped in. The actors drew from their personal experiences during their early days in the industry to portray their respective characters. Some of those experiences even made it into the film.

According to choreographer Mandy Moore, the inspiration for the dance sequences came from a wide variety of films — from ‘Top Hat’ to ‘West Side Story’ (1961) to ‘Sweet Charity’ to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991) to ‘Wall-E.’ ‘La La Land’ thrives in the dichotomy within its narrative between the fantastical musical numbers and kitchen-sink drama. As Chazelle told The Hollywood Reporter, it’s a film that takes “the old musical but ground it in real life where things don’t always exactly work out.” However, ‘La La Land’ is ultimately not based on a true story.

Read More: La La Land Ending, Explained