La La Land struck chords with aching familiarity and I’m pretty sure it hit home for many of the audiences as well. After having watched it, it came to no surprise it won 7 Golden Globes, among other nominations and international awards. What was surprising however, was the atypical ending of the movie that caught us all off guard. It’s a film supposedly patterned after the Golden Age of Hollywood where boy meets girl, love conquers all, and audiences get exactly what they paid to see.
What makes this film so good is it revives 1940’s and 50’s film elements such as the set, singing, tap dancing, jazz music and style, but infused modern storytelling elements that veered away from thematic cliches ever so present in old Hollywood movies. While some movies offer an escape from our mundane lives, this one brought us right back to the core of some of life’s realities. For those who have watched it, you know what I’m talking about. That. Friggin. Epilogue. 5 years after.
At first, it shattered me. What was the point of having all those recurring universe-conspired encounters of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and ultimately changing the course of each other’s lives? What a let down to find that 5 years after their parting, after having succeeded in their chosen careers, Mia is happily married to another man, now raising a child. Mia and Seb were supposed to be destined for each other. Earlier scenes foreshadowed a happy ending. By that part, in my mind, I was still hoping for some pixie dust to change this unfamiliar scenario. But story gets even more tense. Right just when the universe conspired again for them to see each other at Sebastian’s successful jazz club, Seb nostalgically plays their theme on the piano and the scene shifts to an alternate perfect life path flashed before us. At this point, I was hoping for some magical realism to change the ending (Like the scene in 13 Going on 30. Haha.) to what should have been. The alternative recap ends, reality sinks in as we are thrown back to the jazz club with Seb onstage, finishing his last note. Mia and her husband stand up to leave, but upon reaching the door, she stops and glances back at Seb with a peaceful smile. Seb returns a bittersweet one.
Right then, I knew it just had to end that way. I could not think of a better ending. I understand why many felt betrayed, but here’s why I wasn’t anymore:
The Golden Age of Hollywood typically depicts two lovers that surmount all kinds of struggles in the name of love, however impractical and crazy it may be. La La Land deviated from the usual plot. In fact, I would say the story was not even about Mia and Sebastian’s romance. It’s about the winding journey we face as we set to follow our dreams.
La La Land overthrows the notion that only that one true romantic love can give happiness and satisfaction to our lives. The movie is also very representative of our time where women can now freely choose and find satisfaction in pursuing careers first over, say, romance, or having children and nurturing a family.
“But they could have worked it out long distance! They didn’t have to give up on their love.”, my friend, Macy, whimpered.
I know right?! But his brings me to my second point: unlike the old movies before where the primary focus were relationships itself, the film emphasizes and makes us appreciate the beauty that is brought about by relationships. Some relationships, no matter how destined they may seem to be, are simply not meant to be. Yet, we are reminded that we would not be where or who we are without them. Mia and Seb’s smile exchange at the end comforts and reminds us to not to regret anything that has in someway, touched and changed our lives.
In the alternative ending, everything went smoothly, not a tear shed, ending on a high note where they live happily ever after. As my friend, Imma, pointed out, that scene was the real “La La Land.” The alternate life path flash was representative of the “perfect world” we otherwise would have wanted for the characters, and for ourselves (that’s why it was so painful to watch! Huhu). But we do not live in a perfect world. Even Hollywood stars, with all their beauty, fame and fortune, even as we envision as demigods on pedestals, are not exempt from the struggles of being human. We make plans, relationships, big dreams – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Such are the pains and gains of the journey.
What I truly loved about La La Land is that is was real and wasn’t cloaked in romanticizing failed but good relationships. This brings me to question, did the relationship fail or was it successful in the sense that it served its purpose?
I appreciate that it ended on a bittersweet and hopeful tone, giving us the space to imagine happy separate lives for both of them. We may not live in a perfect world, and uncertainties of life may lead us to the most unexpected places, but we can always be hopeful and may I add, joyful, that things will turn out for the best, and the mess will make sense in the end. Here’s to the ones that dream, here’s to the hearts that ache, here’s to the mess we make!