La La Land isn't a complicated film, but it's intricately constructed on a number of levels that I've been gleeful to grapple with since my first viewing and even more following my second.

This idea is most obviously on display in something like the film's opening sequence—a dazzling one-take[ish] musical number that's nothing if not intricately constructed. It's also seen as the film toys with our expectations by presenting events from different viewpoints—some real, some fictional.

I found myself especially fascinated, however, by the push and pull between the film's message and its packaging and the way both play to the worldview of each individual viewer. After a first viewing, La La Land felt like a millennial's movie—an impossible dream about dreamy dreamers—sculpted [somewhat superficially] to resemble something for Gen X'ers and Boomers—a Technicolor musical.

This isn't a particularly novel reading. After all, the chorus to the film's climactic song starts with "Here's to the one's who dream..." I think this duality is important to the film's appeal though. Younger viewers can relate to Mia's and Seb's dreams and their occasional successes because that's them or will be them soon enough, while older viewers flash back to memories of La La Land's obvious inspirations—classics like Singin' in the Rain and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It's this universal appeal through slippery identity that might help it take home Best Picture at this year's Oscar ceremony.

A second viewing both crystallized this take and turned it on its head. I only aged four days from first look to second, but suddenly, I was seeing things from an older viewer’s perspective. Clearly, director Damien Chazelle was one of us—gently judging the naivete of the film’s two protagonists while applauding their eventual growth and willingness to settle and be happy with what you’ve got. [After all, why would he call the dreamers “fools” in the title of the film’s climactic song?] The presentation, meanwhile, was a candy-coated kiss to the younger set—an obvious attempt, as John Legend’s Keith would say—to bring an older, dying art form to a new generation. 

At least part of this interpretation would be incorrect. Chazelle is but 31—a Hollywood wunderkind for what he’s accomplished so far. He straddles the line between millennial and Generation X, between revolutionary and traditionalist. He belongs to neither group, and nor does his film. It’s such a cool trick—appeal to everyone by committing to no one.

It’s also worth noting that Chazelle went through a divorce around the time he struck it big with Whiplash [and when he was prepping to shoot La La Land]. Surprisingly, he’s also a noted pessimist. When Whiplash debuted to raves, he assumed his flame would flicker out quickly and started in on this film while people were still taking his calls. [He has also stated that he only reads negative reviews of his films.]

Such a pessimist making something as hopeful as La La Land is the definition of millennial—ambitious, contradictory, a little stupid, and ultimately inspiring. At least that’s how I see it, but hey, older viewer, if you want to tell me Chazelle’s story is yours too, I’d listen.

It’s important to view films through these lenses because I think those that speak to fluently to and about a specific generation often get remembered and treasured as important cultural artifacts. Rebel Without a Cause, Easy Rider, The Graduate, The Breakfast Club, The Social Network—all generation-defining movies that have withstood the test of time. The takeaways from my second viewing might mean La La Land isn’t destined for such a vaulted place in cinema history, but we’ll see where Chazelle goes from here. He’s certainly young enough and talented enough to own that space.