LA LA LAND: A Look Back

I genuinely enjoyed the movie when it came out but since then I have re-watched it about a dozen times and my verdict is that it’s a masterpiece. Now, I don’t think many would disagree that:

  1. The music is brilliant
  2. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have incredible chemistry
  3. Cinematography and production design is breathtaking throughout the whole movie (it won the Oscar for both categories). Just the scene at the end of “Someone in the Crowd” with the tracking shot through the party that leads to the guys diving in the pool (as the camera dives)… awesome. It was also nominated in sound mixing, sound editing, film editing and costume design. It’s one of the most *technically* perfect movies I’ve ever seen.

But in addition to its obvious strengths, I think it’s those elements that are most polarizing that really elevate this movie. Let’s talk about that ending first.

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First of all, let’s dispense with what some critics said about the ending (and the movie as a whole) being more about Seb’s character and sidelining Mia. Some website called Film Daily went so far as to say Mia “is still silenced at the end of the film to give way for Seb’s voice” because the epilogue is based on Mia viewing a performance of Seb at his jazz club. But this omits the simple fact that the whole damn epilogue is from Mia’s perspective. Indeed, it’s Mia’s character who is vastly more important to the ending because its her arc and choices that illustrate the theme at the core of the movie, which is you should sacrifice ANYTHING to be a movie star, even your personal relationships.

Now, I think that’s, um, not a good recipe for happiness, but it’s an *original* thought and it’s far more realistic than the typical Hollywood “happily-ever-after” ending that the movie so viciously parodies in Mia’s day-dream at Seb’s club.

Now, maybe you think I’m overstating it. Let’s consider how Mia’s life at the the end of the movie compares to her life at the beginning. Our first glimpse of Mia’s character after the flash-forward is when she is shown entering the coffee shop on the studio lot where she used to work, only this time she’s doing so as the huge movie star everyone is fawning over, rather than as the downtrodden barista. Pre-fame Mia was a normal person, basically human and relatable, the movie delights in showing her just as haughty and eager to flaunt her status (why else would she go to the coffee shop? Do movie stars get their own coffee? Please…) as the movie star she was serving at the beginning of the movie.

Consider, too, how the movie portrays her family, both in reality and in her day-dream. Famous Mia is married to an anonymous, generically handsome bro not too different from the stiff she was dating at the beginning of the movie. While the two of them do have a kid, said kid is given about two seconds of screen time before being blithely ditched with the nanny while Mia and Generic Husband head out on a date. Even Mia’s departing line instructing her daughter to “say ‘Goodbye Mommy'” seems a little bit insecure, almost as if Mia’s afraid her daughter doesn’t, in fact, notice or care if she leaves. Generic husband, of course, doesn’t kiss his daughter goodbye at all.

Contrast this with Mia’s fantasy of what her home life with Seb would have looked like. Part of her daydream is Mia and Seb watching old home movies and reminiscing about normal family stuff – birthdays, painting a home, domestic bliss, pretty much. The warm, happy Mia of her imagination is the Mia we know from the movie. Not the cold A-lister getting her own coffee just so she can bask in the whispers of recognition and the desperate eyes of the jealous barista.

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Mia’s fantasy is to dream of a world where she could have had it all, the husband who actually inspires her, the home life she actually wants, the movie stardom she craves. She even fantasizes that her career could have been devoid of any hardship or failure along the way…. in her imagination, she gives her one-woman show in front of a packed house and at the end the audience leaps to their feet in adulation. And, of course, she imagines that Seb would have made all the sacrifices (Seb isn’t running a club in her dream), and that all of his choices would have been different (no brushing her off at their first meeting, no touring with John Legend, moving to Paris to follow Mia during filming her big movie).

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Despite the fact that Mia looks depressed and lonely when she snaps out of her dream, the movie basically says that giving up a fulfilling personal life is worth it to be a movie star. The story that Mia tells in her audition is about her love of the movies that she got from her aunt. The opening number of the song depicts a girl happily ditching her boyfriend to live in that Technicolor world, and a guy singing, ” they say you’ve got to want it more!” Mia responds:

I trace it all back to then Her

And the snow, and the Seine Smiling through it

She said she’d do it again.

So there you have it. La La Land valorizes the poets, dreamers, and other folks who have enough guts and commitment to their creative visions to abandon everything to give the rest of us mere mortals the entertainment we need. It’s a narcissistic vision, but by ending the way it did, La La Land demonstrated that it’s got the courage of its own convictions. I respect that! Bring on your criticism, I’ll be happy to shoot down your wrong opinions in the comments.

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