observations and opinion
A spoonful of sugar, helps the medicine go down. So have a fistful.
Stop reading if you plan to see La La Land, because this will ruin it.
“I loved it, but I hated the ending” she said. She’s sixteen and she reluctantly admits, “a romantic.” But hers is a fair measure of La La Land, because to love the movie, you must love Mia and Seb; and if you love them, the ending hurts.
For this is a movie about falling in love, being a dreamer and – unexpectedly – having to choose between the two. The fact that Mia and Seb make a realistic choice makes for a hard landing after two hours afloat. It makes one sad and grouchy.
But truthfully, getting mad at La La Land for not being realistic, or worse for being just realistic enough to make sure these two don’t end up together, is even sillier than the movie itself. Because the whole movie is about not being realistic – it’s about believing in a fantasy, a fantasy so compelling that you carve yourself into pieces and reassemble them, to become the dream. It’s about believing in yourself so much, nothing and no one – absolutely no one – matters more.
That’s a grim description of a pile of candy floss, but it’s true. What’s also true is, I loved it.
It was a struggle at first. The now famous opening number has an army of actual LA dancers swinging and swaying around (and on) their cars on top of the freeway. This was like opening a bottle of 1976 champagne – it is supposed to be amazing, but what it mainly is, is flat. Followed by a snooze of a musical number with four girls dolling-up in their apartment, and you have yourself a most unpromising ten minutes of cinema.
But then Ryan Gosling appears. Plonking out brainless Christmas tunes on a restaurant piano with a weird blend of rage and self-loathing, Gosling injects a dose of hilarious espresso into a sleepy mess, and the whole thing lifts off – as unlikely as a 747 dangling with Christmas ornaments, La La Land flies. And so do the characters, literally, as they float up into the starry heavens together.
From there it’s pretty simple: immensely charming and attractive people, with talent, fall totally in love with each other, prop each other up, support each other’s dreams, struggle, compromise, judge each other unfairly, fall out, save the day and live happily ever after. Except that they live happily apart, having cut the cord with a cleaver the moment career success is within their grasp.
That is the big dose of medicine in the spoonful of sugar that is La La Land. And I don’t mind it. La La Land is like anyone you know and love – flawed, odd, predictable, disappointing and yet, important. A movie doesn’t have to be perfect, or even nearly perfect, to deserve to be loved. Just like a person.
That said, one has complaints. I will not kvetch about the amateur musical performances (how excruciating is it, for a real dancer or singer who can NEVER get work in LA, to watch Gosling and Stone gamely shuffle about the screen?) I will not fuss about how Seb manages to stay alive in LA on no income, or how Mia can afford a Prius on a barista salary (if you could watch Friends for a decade, you have no business complaining about the economic principles of life in La La Land.)
Indeed, in a movie that features airborne dance numbers, cartoon sets, high school musical performances from movie stars, career-making “calls out of the blue” from Hollywood casting agents, tragically brief scenes with Rosemary DeWitt and JK Simmons, and a white guy from Canada anchoring black jazz bands – in all of that – I have but one complaint:
How is it possible that Mia, having in a mere five years become a movie star with a perfectly bland lawyer-like husband, AND a chubby little doll of a baby girl named “Chelsea” – now living and working in 21st Century Los Angeles – how is it possible she has no idea that the love of her life, Seb, whose dream it was to own a jazz club in LA, now owns a jazz club in LA? A jazz club called Seb’s? Is there no Internet in this La La Land? Hasn’t she seen Seb’s Facebook page?
Why ask the question, when I know the answer? Because I really don’t like the answer, I guess.
The answer, of course, is that Mia wasn’t looking. She wasn’t googling Seb. She didn’t know he existed anymore, because as much as she may have loved Seb – as much as she will “always” love him – Mia will always love someone else a lot more.
Turns out, it’s a realistic movie after all.
La La Land is, in all respects, a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down. It’s so sweet, in fact, that one hardly notices the heavy dose of truth it makes you swallow.
That truth being that human beings will almost always choose themselves and their wishes, over other people or others’ dreams. Even over the tug of their own hearts.
That sounds sour indeed — cause to add more than a spoonful of sugar. Yet even as eternal as that truth may be, and however unromantic a nugget it is to dig out of the creamy meringue of an amateur musical that is La La Land, it also feels “new.”
New in the sense that these charming young people, who might well have had each other AND “it all”, ultimately opt for “it all” but, not, each other. That’s a choice, and an ending, which might have been unthinkable in an earlier era of musical comedies.
Yet in the second decade of this 21st Century, it seems all too true. Why?