Finding La La Land
Movies are escapism par excellence. For two hours as viewers we immerse ourselves in someone else’s story, with characters, visuals and audio that transpose us into that world. The light of the world around us dims, the screen lights up and we are sucked in. Sometimes that movie may be so realistic that it uses its world as a tool to illuminate our own. But the world we live in is scary, so many times all we wish is to be somewhere else. Indeed, that’s why I like comedies more than dramas; I need something to make me laugh after a stressful day on planet Earth.
The opening number of La La Land immediately sets the stage with an air of fantasy. If the stress of a traffic jam can give way to an uninhibited dance number, then anything is possible. And we are told that even when situations let you down, remember the next day is yet another day of sun. The visual and audial color palette of the movie is bright and optimistic – it makes you want to dance with the characters. So when I met Mia and Sebastian, I rooted for their success. I wanted them to achieve their goals, and as their relationship blossomed in front of me I rooted for them to hold onto that love. And the plot developed as a stereotypical quest: starting off low, moving upwards, through happy periods and challenges, a final insurmountable breaking point. But when Sebastian trekked four hours from Los Angeles to Boulder City to bring his princess back to her throne of an audition room, I needed the fantasy to come through, to give me some vicarious bliss. Just give me the perfect ending; just this once, I pleaded with the film. For one time can’t we just have happily ever after?
I rooted for that perfect ending; I wanted it so badly. But that’s not what happens. We don’t know what happened in the interval, but Mia shows up again five years later a star, married to some random guy who is entirely irrelevant except for the fact that he is not Sebastian. And Sebastian is now the owner of a highly successful jazz club named by Mia, but he is alone at home. And as the story closes the two ex-lovers see each other and share a flashback of what might have been. The film teases us with the perfect ending we knew was coming all along, accompanied by all the musical themes of the previous 120 minutes, telling us this is the right conclusion. But the montage is just a tease, and Mia and Sebastian are left looking at each other, once again in the original timeline. They look at each other; they smile; Mia walks away. Curtains fall; “The End” crawls across the screen as uplifting trumpets tell us this was indeed a good ending.
How can that be it?
At the end of the day Mia and Sebastian did realize their dreams. The love that bloomed over that fateful year in Los Angeles did not make it to the harvest, but both dreamers ended their quests successful; Mia the queen of the screen, Sebastian the savior of jazz. As the film closes, Mia and Sebastian both know what they could have had, but know much more intimately what they do have. And with all that in mind they leave alternate history be, and they smile.
Perhaps La La Land is an escapist film. The idea of being content with an imperfect ending is so foreign to us, in the era of exclusively bigots, fools, or those who agree with us one hundred percent, in the era of Bernie-or-Bust. The movie leaves a confusing taste in our mouths; we don’t think we should be happy for the characters, yet we are.
Perhaps, though, the film leaves us with more than an entertaining story. Its world is so close to ours – down to the imperfections – that we can relate its theme to our lives with little interpretive effort. La La Land doesn’t leave us in ecstasy or hysteria, it leaves us with something more real, something more comforting: In our imperfect world, an imperfect ending is still, indeed, happy.
We don’t have it all. But we still smile. Curtain falls; we all live (reasonably) happily ever after.