My thoughts about the movie: LA LA LAND

I am not a professional reviewer of films/movies, and no one reading this should take my views as something coming from a seasoned veteran. With that said, I give the movie, LA LA LAND, one star (out of a possible four). Please take no offense if you are among the many who loved the film.
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! – Please do not read the rest of this article if you have not seen the movie. Significant plot details are revealed below.
I have always enjoyed movies of all types. I feel just as comfortable watching Russell Crowe in, Gladiator, as I do watching Julie Andrews in, The Sound of Music (along with a much wider birth of genres and film types). I love the old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, as well as watching Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor, singing and dancing their way through, Singing in the Rain. I have loved viewing a plethora of other singers and dancers in movies too numerous to count, including: Yankee Doodle Dandy, West Side Story, Mary Poppins, Grease, Shall we Dance, and probably 50 other films (both old and new) that contain music and dance sequences.

In LA LA Land, we encounter such musical, dancing brilliance, and fun, that the music stays with you for a long time after seeing the movie, and if you like dancing, your feet will do a chair toe-step upon replaying those scenes and chords in your head. The songs are creative, sometimes powerful, and at other times they produce deep emotion—and they are almost always fun, fun, fun. The dance sequences (oh how I wanted more of those), were as if watching people being enticed to move their feet from sheer youthful joy…and they moved their feet in the most delightful ways.
We first meet Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) on a sunny traffic clogged L.A. highway (go here for a fantastic example). That opening scene was pure fun as many frustrated drivers, waiting in a standstill situation, exited their cars and broke into song and dance. It was refreshing to see a movie start with so much fun (film makers today seem to feel as if every movie must bring us through a journey filled with the sad underbelly of the world—as if we forgot all the suffering around us and must be reminded, continually).

We follow Mia and Sebastian as they remain steadfastly tied to their dreams – she strives for success in acting, while he struggles to use his incredible musical talents to help spread Jazz music to a wider audience by opening his own Jazz club (he desires to highlight the Jazz greats in the process with the hope of reviving that amazing music for future generations, go here). As a lover of Jazz, his journey held much meaning for me.

Mia and Sebastian are similar in that they are each steeped in creative ability, and they have huge dreams that many others run from after the first sign of rejection or difficulty. They show us that chasing one’s dreams takes work and courage and we find ourselves rooting for them throughout the film. Magnificent messages – to strive for our goals while embracing the work success requires.
We continue to follow them as their fragile relationship begins to find stronger roots with each new day and each new life event. It is a classic tale of two people who have somehow found each other in a world filled with more than 7-billion souls. We know and see Mia and Sebastian are perfect for each other. In Mia and Sebastian, we see two quirky (yet still lovely) people who are utterly made for each other. They belong together – no other person could fill the shoes of the other in the same way. We feel it, see it, know it, and believe it with complete conviction as we watch this amazing couple figure out their lives together.
It would seem at this point, I should be giving the movie four stars, since I have heaped nothing but praise on the film so far, and, had the movie ended this way, my review would be of the highest order, and it would have made a happy mark on my mind for years to come…yet, this is where things turn bad. Don’t get me wrong, those working on the film are obviously brilliant artists, and the fact that I can heap such praise (to this point) on their work, is a testament to that.

I am convinced that most movie goers believe in happy endings (I certainly do). I believe in stories in which the man gets the woman, or the woman gets the man. I think the beast (in the Beauty and the Beast) should not remain a beast and that when the prince kisses the girl (in Sleeping Beauty), she wakes up and they live happily ever after—together. I believe that art (all of it) should lift us up so we want to be the best we can be and not in a self-focused way that this film depicts.
The ending of this movie has Mia and Sebastian going their own way—she to a highly successful acting career, and him to his own Jazz club, as they had always dreamed. But in the process of creating this movie, the writers forgot what really matters in life – pursuit of our dreams mean little if we have no one to share them with. Placing religion aside, when a woman and a man marry, they have committed to love each other forever and to be by each other’s side throughout all life’s messiness and turmoil. In this movie, we see two young people who are an absolute fit for each other, walk away to follow their own dreams, rather than finding a way to pursue their dreams as a united, loving couple. That saddens me deeply because it is such a reflection of who we are today.
It was a heart breaking and film ruining ending for me. Being the sappy romantic type, I had bought completely into the narrative that Mia and Sebastian were perfect for each other. And making matters worse, the writers decided to trick us into believing everything would work out for them by inserting a ridiculous dream or double-back in time section of the movie that makes it seem as if they would be together after all—but they remained apart. Mia married someone else and had a child, and Sebastian pounded away on his ivory keys making beautiful music in his own Jazz club while living alone and without the love of his life to share it with.
We see the heart-wrenching gaze they give each other in the final scene. We can feel the, “I threw away the one person who owns my heart” look in their eyes. The acting was impressive, the directing was fantastic, the choreography was spot on, and the music and dance scenes make our hearts soar but, in the end, it is a tragic story, and Mia and Sebastian show us how tragic it was by their gazes that appeared to pierce into each other’s soul.

In my view, it is an act of cowardice to run from the ending that everyone looks for. Movies can be so powerful, yet it seems there is no longer room for portraying what lies at the heart of nearly every soul. We want the happy ending. We want love to last forever. We want marriages to remain until death do us part. We want the dream, not the tragedy. No one marries so they can divorce. No one wants the beast to remain a beast. In our personal lives, we desire the happy ending and the joyful life, not the pain, loneliness and suffering.
Despite all that, we know that in real life the dream rarely happens, yet movies should lift us up to what is possible—some people do love each other forever, and many marriages do last till death do us part, and sometimes a couple will sing and dance their way through life by clinging to each other all the way. In a world that seems increasingly filled with people who are self-focused, this film fits the majority quite well because many people have forgotten how to dream. They have released their hope and grasped onto the notion that living for ourselves (and increasingly living alone) is the safest thing to do, and therein lies the cowardice. We have become a people who are afraid to take emotional chances in life because it includes risk. But to be truly happy, one must place their entire person out there so they can find that one person who will not let them down. In many ways, the makers of this film share that cowardice. It is risky (today) to believe in the dream and to depict the hope that must accompany those aspirations—they too have released their hope.

It takes guts and courage to never give-up on one’s dreams and to never give-up on the people/person you love the most, no matter what—it takes hope, it takes love, it takes a romantic heart that believes that in the end, we all want someone to take this ride through life with us, in the good times and the bad. Fred and Ginger always came together. Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds ended-up together. Those films show us what can be if we just have the courage, strength, and a hopeful heart. This movie, clothed in fantastic fun and creativity, tells the tale of a couple who did not have the courage and hope to see their dreams through together, and in the end, they accomplished their personal dreams at the price of losing each other.
The world is filled with grief and pain—movies offer an opportunity to give us a reprieve from those realities. I am not sure we can ever hope to lessen wars, famines, starvation, or any human suffering if we do not believe the best things can happen for and to us.
I pray more people will cling to not only their own dreams but also to the aspirations of those they love the most and that they also grasp the truth that without people to share our lives with, our accomplishments become less meaningful. As wonderful as success is, it is temporary; whereas, genuine abiding love is forever. Dreams are meant to be shared—that is how they change lives and the world.
Anyone who has people in their life that they truly and deeply love, and who love them in return, are blessed no matter what happens with their professional aspirations—people are what is important. Our dreams give us hope—love of others is what binds us together and makes us human.

Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment. 🙂

T.P. Johnson

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