A love story. But not the one you think it is.
[SPOILERS ABOUND] The first scene of the film sets the stage for a fun reintroduction to Hollywood musicals with a single shot dance number on a gridlocked freeway, but the story actually starts when we see Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meet for the first time. Preoccupied when traffic finally moves a few spots, Mia doesn’t move forward fast enough so Sebastian honks long and hard at her before passing her – and her up raised middle finger. And so we are introduced to the two main characters in this highly lauded film who we will watch develop from strangers to friends to lovers to something else over the course of a year.
Why this movie won seven Golden Globes, among other awards, is clear from the opening song to the surprising ending.
First, this movie is amazingly charming. Overflowing with nostalgia of Hollywood’s golden ages of musical films and a love of creativity and the arts that exudes from (in-movie) film scene to jazz music. Constant references to the great actors, films and musicians accompany the dreams that Mia and Sebastian have – Mia to be an actress and Sebastian to open a jazz bar. Watching Gosling and Stone sing and dance in the twilight in the hills of Hollywood is fantastic!
As the movie progresses, and the seasons change, so too does the love story between Mia and Sebastian evolve. [EXPLICIT SPOILERS] By the end of the film, in the final act, the two lovers are on the edge of achieving their dreams… and the end of their relationship. This is where the film falters and the second reason why I think so many in Hollywood loved it so much.
The lesson we learn in this film is that we can follow some of our dreams, but not all of them. After a tender scene where Mia and Sebastian tell each other that they will always love each other, we find ourselves 5 years later after Mia becomes a successful actress. We see her perfect life where she was able to achieve her dream and just as our happiness for her is almost complete we see her kissing a different man and we meet her daughter with that man. The moment we realize that Mia choose her film dreams over her love for Sebastian is the moment the film loses its luster for me.
Hollywood may love this decision because perhaps many who have been successful have had to make similar decisions. Perhaps they see this sacrifice as worthy because of the achievement. My dream or my love, but not both. Maybe it makes them nostalgic and feel better about their choices. Whatever emotions it prompts in Hollywood, it prompts very different emotions in me: pity and sadness.
This isn’t Rick and Ilsa’s ending in Casablanca, which is also bittersweet and doesn’t end happily ever after. There are no political under tones, no sacrifice for a cause as great as the Allies war effort in WW2, or even the ambiguity accompanying whether or not they truly loved each other out were better off with someone else. La La Land’s ending is the sudden introduction of a new love interest making it clear that the sacrifice of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship by Mia was solely for personal ambition.
If Mia and Sebastian truly loved each other, and would have been overwhelmingly happy, as we see in a sad montage of the film re-imagining each scene working out perfectly for their relationship to have been successful, including a home as a family and even a son, the loss of their relationship is far sadder than not being an actress or owning a jazz bar. To give up possible life-long fulfilment and happiness to chase after fleeting fame and riches is sad to me.
Not just me. As Mia kisses this new man, my teenage daughter watching with me cried out, “what?” My wife left dissatisfied with the ending as well. It wasn’t a happy one from their perspective. Because loving relationships and family are a higher goal than getting a job.
Hollywood clearly doesn’t agree. And we don’t have to. Lovers of film, including of musicals, as I consider myself to be, may not enjoy the whole vision of the director to enjoy the film and appreciate that it was made at all. Stone and Gosling do an outstanding job – Gosling really was playing the piano the whole time! – singing and dancing their ways into our hearts.
While I didn’t like the ending it is clear that director and writer Damien Chazelle was successful on at least two fronts: making the musical popular again and making the audience, including me and my family, fall in love with Mia and Sebastian.
4/5 stars. Language, including the f word, GD, and others. Mia moves in with Sebastian prior to marriage. Drinking alcohol. No nudity or sex scenes.
Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.