Mission Lab 2018

REVIEW: Is ‘La La Land’ OK for teens and families?

Movie wins seven Golden Globes but could also be good family discussion starter

January 13th, 2017 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: Is ‘La La Land’ OK for teens and families?

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star as two lonely souls in Los Angeles who meet by chance, fall in love and then serve as cheerleaders for each other’s ambitions.

Mia is an energetic and aspiring young actress who has dreams of making it big in movies one day but, so far, she can’t even get past the first round of auditions. Sebastian, too, is a dreamer and has a goal of owning a jazz club so that he can save that musical genre from mass extinction. Yet he can’t hold down a job and was just fired from a piano gig at a high-class restaurant.  

Their stories are at the heart of La La Land (PG-13), the romantic comedy musical that won a record seven Golden Globes Sunday and expanded this month nationally after a somewhat limited release in December.

The movie was written and directed by Academy Award nominee Damien Chazelle with stars Emma Stone (Mia) and Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) as two lonely souls in Los Angeles who meet by chance, fall in love, and then serve as cheerleaders for each other’s ambitions.

I initially was skeptical of La La Land. After all, how many clean romantic comedies has Hollywood produced lately? But I walked out of the theater humming the songs, tapping my feet and wishing that the studios would produce even more movies like La La Land. That’s not to say that this PG-13 flick is squeaky clean. It’s not. But La La Land contains so much of what made movies of yesteryear enjoyable—unforgettable music and great choreography combined with a message that makes you just feel good about life. Not ironically, Mia and Sebastian admire the old actresses and jazz musicians who died long ago.  

Still, we’ve got to ask: Is it OK for the entire family? And does it square with a biblical worldview? Let’s take a look.

The Good

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Let’s begin by applauding Hollywood for giving us a romantic comedy without any sex or nudity. True, Mia and Sebastian do end up living together (more on that below), but La La Land contains not a single bedroom scene. Their kisses are not the passionate type that make you feel uncomfortable, and—get this—their first hand-holding experience is played up as a big deal. If every romantic comedy was like this, I’d watch more of them. It truly has a traditional feel to it.     

The music and chorography are what make La La Land soar. The opening scene takes place on a busy Los Angeles overpass during rush hour and shows hundreds of L.A. drivers turning a stressful moment into a let’s-dance-on-top-of-our-cars moment. (I’m still wondering how they pulled off that scene.) And about the dancing in La La Land: It’s mostly the type we all can enjoy, and not the kind of dancing that would cause you to dive for the remote at home.

La La Land raises so many questions about life that nearly every moviegoer will be forced to reflect. How long is too long to chase your dream? Should you just get a “real job?” (Sebastian sort of does that.) What should you do when choosing between a romantic interest and your career? And what should you do if you’re stuck in a job you don’t enjoy? Although there is no one-size-fits-all answer, it is comforting to know that God has given each of us unique gifts and that he has a plan for each of our lives. If that plan involves starring in a major motion picture, that’s great, but if it involves starring in a local church play, that’s fine, too.

It’s also worth considering: Does God ever want us to be famous? Maybe, but only if it accomplishes his purposes. Mostly, he wants us to be humble (Eph. 4:2, Phil 2:3, Rom. 12:16).

Let’s also consider God’s role in the arts. Just as Bezalel son of Uri was gifted with “skills to make artistic designs” (Exodus 31:2-5) to build the tabernacle, so, too, does God gift people today with artistic abilities. That doesn’t mean, though, that all artwork glorifies God. The creative arts are no different than any other field where people abuse and misuse their talents.

Stone and Gosling, not surprisingly, are marvelous. The movie is hilarious and proves once again that the funniest comedy is the cleanest comedy. If La La Land contained a joke about sex, I missed it.

The film has no violence.

The Bad

Even though La La Land is among the cleanest romantic comedies out of Hollywood in recent memory, it still has its problems.  

It contains about 22 coarse words (misuse of “God” 5, a-- 4, s--t 3, GD 2, f--- 1, he--2, d--n 1, pi--ed 1, misuse of “Lord” 1). Mia flips off Sebastian—a scene that we see repeated later.

Mia moves in with Sebastian and they lie in bed together, fully clothed, although they don’t kiss. (Their kisses throughout the movie take place outside of the bedroom.) There also is a pool party scene with a few women dressed in bikinis, although Mia wears a sundress.      

Remove the bad stuff, and the film might as well have been made in the 1960s.

The Verdict: Family-Friendly?

This one is rated PG-13 for a reason, and families who are uncomfortable with coarse language will want to steer clear. That said, this is a film that many parents and teens might enjoy.

Discussion Questions

How do you know if your hopes and desires align with God’s will? Does God want us to “dream” and have big goals? From God’s perspective, what is success in life? Is it wrong to want to be famous? What role do the creative arts play in a Christian worldview? Does God enjoy theater and music? Do you think Sebastian should have taken the job with the band? Was Mia wrong to daydream about a different life with Sebastian?

La La Land is rated PG-13 for some language.

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.