Aaron Widmar

Dancing & Driving: The Cars of ‘La La Land’

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La La Land film movie cars Lionsgate 2016 scene dance

Cars are a recurring element of ‘La La Land’
Photo: Lionsgate

I had the pleasure of seeing writer/director Damien Chazelle’s spectacle La La Land for the first time yesterday. Amid the song and dance, the music and theater, not only is it a story of dreams and compromise, it’s a story of cars.

It’s true, though you may have been too enamored by Emma Stone’s charm or Ryan Gosling’s panache to notice.

From the first meeting on the Los Angeles freeway—following the opening musical number “Another Day of Sun”—multiple subsequent scenes not only involve cars, but the vehicles are often catalysts for events in the story.

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La La Land film movie cars Lionsgate 2016 scene Los Angeles Freeway Dance

The opening song ‘n dance on the Los Angeles freeway
Photo: Lionsgate

If you’ve seen La La Land, then you know what I’m talking about. The story wouldn’t be the same in the absence of Gosling and Stone’s supporting cast: their vehicles of choice.

2012 Toyota Prius grey exterior car

Mia (Stone) drives a Prius hybrid much like this

Early in the film, Mia’s (Stone) Toyota Prius gets towed, compelling her to walk the streets and eventually wind up at the restaurant where Sebastian (Gosling) is expressing himself on the piano. Later, their first dance number together (“A Lovely Night”) occurs on a moonlit stroll to find her parked Prius, taking them to a (so-so) overlook of the city.

Her fuel-efficient Toyota Prius reflects the character’s practical nature, as she works as a barista to pay the bills, as well as her being a face in the crowd  (“Someone in the Crowd”), lost in a sea of wannabe actresses; there’s even a joke about how common Priuses are in LA.

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La La Land film movie cars Lionsgate 2016 scene Ryan Gosling Buick Rivera

We first meet Sebastian (Gosling) behind the wheel of his Riviera, listening to a jazz cassette
Photo: Lionsgate

La La Land film movie cars Lionsgate 2016 scene Ryan Gosling Buick Rivera

Photo: Lionsgate

On the other hand, Gosling drives a red leather 1982 Buick Riviera convertible, an old-fashioned, impractical set of wheels that’s one-of-a-kind in the City of Angels. His outdated philosophy on music–which John Legend calls him out on–is much like his outdated mode of transportation. He listens to jazz recordings on vinyl–and cassettes when he’s driving. He announces his presence by forcefully laying on the horn. Without giving the ending away, his Buick is even integral to the way their situations resolve.

This shows how storytellers can even use cars as methods of characterization, details accentuating our understanding of the players just like their wardrobe and dialogue.

  • Aaron WidmarSenior Editor

    Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing... See more articles by Aaron.

  • Alexander Alekhine

    What about the car Ryan Gosling drives at the end of the movie? It’s a different car from the one he’s driving at the start of the movie.

    • porterpnyc

      The car Sebastian drives at the end of the film is also a GM make. It’s an 8th generation Cadillac Eldorado convertible. Growing up in the car business, I’m a car buff. My father was a GM dealer. I was very intrigued by the choice of both of these cars for Ryan Gosling’s character. It was obviously a deliberate storytelling device by the director and production designer. In the pecking order of US automobiles, and more specifically of GM models, a Cadillac is just a bit more prestigious than a Buick. I suppose the subtle message here is that Ryan Gosling’s character has moved up in the world, is more refined and successful, and therefore is able to afford a more expensive and higher level car. The Riviera seemed like it had seen better days, but the Eldorado seems like it’s in pristine condition when he gets out of it outside his club. The fact that it’s still a 30+year old automobile shows his dedication to nostalgia.

      Interestingly, all US automakers discontinued making convertibles in the 70’s and by 1976, the Cadillac Eldorado was to be ‘the last convertible’. It’s the car that I learned to drive on. The proposed safety standards for convertibles meant new restrictions and likely production expenses for manufacturers. I remember being so upset that open air driving was to be a thing of the past.

      However, demand for convertibles was again sparked by the popularity of foreign made drop-tops, and probably because people missed them. Buick introduced a convertible version of the Riviera its first ever, in 1982. Relatively few were built, owing to very high prices-US$23,944. The Riviera convertible was available in only two color choices-white or red firemist (like Sebastian’s in the movie) with red being the only available interior color.

      The exact model year of the Eldorado he graduates to at the end of the film isn’t clear. The first Cadillac convertibles available since ’76 were first were made by independent coachbuilders, so it’s possible it was any model from 1979-83. Cadillac eventually offered it’s own factory version in 1984.

      • Alexander Alekhine

        Great comment; thanks; I will save it.