top of page

Movie References: La La Land and Casablanca

The swooping, breath-taking, masterfully presented musical La La Land plays homage to many classic Hollywood films, but perhaps none more so than the black-and-white romantic drama Casablanca. With fateful lovers meeting in an idyllic city, a timeless romance portrayed by a pair of charismatic actors, and indelible images and sounds, the two tales parallel each other in many ways. Listed below are six more ways Casablanca inspired La La Land.

1) Ingrid Bergman

Mia Dolan, the protagonist of La La Land, has a massive poster of the Swedish actress, who played Casablanca’s Ilsa, on her bedroom wall. Near the end of the movie, another poster of Bergman can be seen by the side of a road. Mia also tends to dress in simple, tailored dresses with vintage silhouettes and feminine details, harkening back to a more mid-century, classic Hollywood aesthetic for which stars like Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Kelly were known.

2) Humphrey Bogart

La La Land's Seb asks Mia who her “Bogart” is (she is dating a man named Greg at the start of the film) but clearly Seb is the film and Mia’s leading man, cut from a similar cloth to Bogart’s character Rick in Casablanca. Seb is usually sharply dressed and has a misanthropic, rigid, opinionated personality that is later softened by his interactions with Mia. By the film’s end, he also opens a popular, upscale nightclub named after himself, à la Rick’s Cafe.

3) The Window

Mia points out to Seb that the window across from the café that she works at was the same window Bergman and Bogart looked out of in Casablanca. As it turns out, she’s quite classic movie savvy (except when it comes to Rebel Without a Cause). Director Damien Chazelle deliberately included a shot of the famous window in La La Land after discovering it was there on the studio lot.

4) Dreamy Music

Stirring, melancholic piano pieces in both films serve as the theme song and marker of the lovers’ bittersweet bond. For Casablanca, the song is “As Time Goes By” played by Rick’s confidante and piano man, Sam, for a nostalgic Ilsa. In La La Land, Seb’s jazz piano playing draws Mia to where he is performing in a restaurant. The same song, titled “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” on the soundtrack, continues to pop up throughout the film, reminding the two of their love and affection for each other.

5) “We’ll always have Paris”

Rick and Ilsa part ways at the end of Casablanca, concluding their romance with an acknowledgement that what they had many years ago in Paris will continue be a precious memory. When Mia is at the brink of her long-awaited breakthrough into acting, she and Seb realize that they too will have to part ways in order to pursue their dreams. “I’ll always love you,” is their shared affirmation that their relationship will still mean something to them even though they will no longer be together. In a way, Hollywood or ("La La Land") is Mia and Seb’s “Paris.”

6) “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”

A drunk Rick bemoans and ponders Ilsa’s sudden appearance at his club in Casablanca after years of being separated. At the end of La La Land, Mia’s silent wonder at finding herself at Seb’s club—five years after breaking up, moving to Paris, and becoming a movie star—and Seb’s own shock seems to heavily allude to the beginning of Casablanca. Also, both Mia and Ilsa have their benign and unaware husbands in tow when they are serendipitously reunited with their former lovers.

What other movie references did you find in La La Land? Comment below!

bottom of page