After a very long summer break, I am back with more movie reviews and we start things off with La La Land (2016). I skipped this one, when it came out in theatres and only recently got around to viewing it. With films that are talked about a lot, I often like to wait until people stop talking about them, to see for myself what all the fuss is about. It makes the viewing experience more enjoyable, as there is less pressure from public opinion, which also makes it easier to keep an open mind about things.
First of, I think La La Land is a decent film. It has amazing acting performances, musical numbers that won’t get out of my head and amazing cinematography. Really, La La Land is only lacking in one thing: a good story. So if you are looking for a good musical and have not seen it yet, I would give it a try. And if you have seen it already, continue reading on, as I dive into why I had a problem with the overall plot of the film.
As is often the case with musicals, the opening act tells you everything you need to know about the rest of the film. The first few lines of the lyrics to “Anthoer Day of Sun” are key.
“I think about that day
I left him at a Greyhound station
West of Santa Fé
We were seventeen, but he was sweet and it was true
Still I did what I had to do
‘Cause I just knew
We’d sink into our seats
Right as they dimmed out all the lights
A Technicolor world made out of music and machine
It called me to be on that screen
And live inside each scene
Without a nickel to my name
Hopped a bus, here I came
Could be brave or just insane
We’ll have to see
‘Cause maybe in that sleepy town
He’ll sit one day, the lights are down
He’ll see my face and think of how he…
…used to know me”
The lyrics tell us that the girl abandons her lover to pursue her dream of starring in movies. It also foreshadows the theme of “The Fools Who Dream”, symbolising Hollywood culture and then goes on to tell us about the final scene, when Sebastian and Mia meet again five years later in his jazz club.
The second musical number “Someone In the Crowd” then makes us forget all of that and think that Mia really doesn’t care about this Hollywood nonsense and is more interested in finding a place where she can discover who she really is. We get that from Mia’s disillusionment and disinterest in participating in the search for the someone in the crowd.
“Is someone in the crowd the only thing you really see?
Watching while the world keeps spinning ’round?
Somewhere there’s a place where I find who I’m gonna be
A somewhere that’s just waiting to be found”
In reality, this foreshadows yet again, that Mia will leave for Paris in the end, which will be the place that will make her who she really is meant to be: a movie star.
I’ve heard some people say the ending is their favourite part of the film. For me, the ending is the worst part of the entire film. After the bittersweet ending that would have sufficed in my opinion, we are treated to a very strange epilogue.
My personal opinion is that epilogues that go off too far into the future never really work, because you skip too much of what happened in the mean time and only alienate your audience, but even so, we could have just had Mia and Sebastian meet in the future as strangers and exchange a longing glance and it would have been fine. Instead we got something very bizarre. First we are told it is five years in the future. Mia plays with her daughter and we are introduced to the father, her husband, who at first does not have a face, so as to make us think it will be Sebastian, but then we realise it is someone else entirely. We don’t know his name or what he does, nor how they met. He’s just there to tell us that Mia and Sebastian did not get back together after Paris. And since they are married and have a little child together, chances are, Mia actually met him on set in Paris, as five years is a short time frame to start a family, when you start off being single.
The couple go off to some party and leave their child with a babysitter. They seem quite happy, except they are not too thrilled about the party. So Mia suggests they just ditch it and go for dinner some place else. They take a fateful turn away from the traffic jam on an intersection and end up going to a jazz club, called Seb’s. Mia is taken aback and in fact seems quite horrified that this is indeed Sebastian’s dream come true club. She and her husband sit down (though she is visually uncomfortable) and when Sebastian comes on stage he notices her and is just as shocked to see her, though possibly more happy about it too. He goes to the piano and plays their song, either as a tribute to their time together, or to express his still lingering feelings for her. We don’t know. Mia at the same time sinks into her seat and goes off into a dream sequence.
We find ourselves back when Mia and Seb met for the second time in the establishment where he had been fired for playing his song. This time, he irrationally kisses Mia, as she starts to talk, instead of brushing her off. Everyone is happy for them, life is perfect and Mia and Sebastian both go to Paris together, start a family and live happily ever after at least until the music stops, Seb looks at her and Mia’s husband notices something is off and suggests they leave the place. Mia agrees, but only slowly walks out and turns to lock eyes with Sebastian one more time. They both smile at each other, nod and then Mia walks away, while Seb plays another song.
Is it a wonderfully bittersweet ending? Emotionally, yes. But when I saw it, I couldn’t help but shout: “What the fuck was that?” Why you ask?
The dream sequence bugs me. It was very much out of place and the setting did not quite convey what it was meant to be. Was it Mia and Seb reconnecting emotionally and are they going to get back together? Unlikely, but not impossible. Was it an attempt by the filmmakers to show us an alternate, hollywood-style ending, criticising the same by dismissing it entirely in the end? Or was it just Mia’s thoughts and feelings put on the silver screen?
Regardless, I found it quite out of place and almost random and what I don’t understand most of all is, how it is supposed to be a perfect happy ending if it was all about Mia fulfilling her dreams and replacing her current husband with Sebastian. There was nothing on Sebastian’s career or the opening of his jazz club, as far as I can remember from the scene. So the happiest ending would have been for him to give up on all of it and just blindly follow her everywhere? Is that the message this film wants to send us? Not only that, but we clearly saw during the film that they were having troubles with their relationship, before Mia got her big break. I doubt they would have stayed together, while they were both unhappy with their own careers. So for a film that tries to be a more edgy realistic version of that is quite out of place. The irony of course is, that they may very well be able to make it work if they got back together after their meeting in Seb’s club. If it wasn’t for the fact that Mia was already married and had just started a family. That again makes you question what exactly happened in those five years. Did Mia and Seb just never speak to each other again in those five years. Did she not tell him she was back in L.A. all that time or was she already madly in love with her now husband at that stage? Even if she didn’t tell him, how come Sebastian never found out on his own? Mia is a movie star now. Of course he would have had to know. So it more likely neither of them really wanted to get back together, but that is not what the dream sequence or their last glance from across the room is telling us. At the very least, they seem to be happy enough with how things turned out, despite not being together. So all in all, I very much enjoyed La La Land and I still listen to its soundtrack on a semi-daily basis, so the song writing was sublime. The only criticism I really have is with the epilogue, which feels contrived and confusing, detracting from an otherwise solid ending.