I was reading a fellow blogger’s post recently about Heloise and Abelard, and I feel extremely lightweight talking about “La La Land” compared to the fascinating mini-treatise focused on the 12th century’s version of star-crossed lovers who predate Romeo and Juliet by hundreds of years.
But what are you gonna do? “La La Land” exists. It got huge crowd reactions and was an Oscar darling. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.
Ryan Gossling’s Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia are sorta star-crossed, too, in their own way, like Heloise and Abelard. Just minus the nobility. And the scholarly pursuits. And the nunnery. And probably nobody will be talking about them hundreds of years later.
SPOILER ALERT, by the way, in case you haven’t seen it yet. Do not read on!
And anyone interested in taking a more in-depth gander at the famous couple from the blog I mentioned can pop in here: https://tinyurl.com/yb9e4ede, and thank you to the author!
When I was a kid, I was a HUGE fan of musicals, but somewhere along the line I outgrew them. I can’t pinpoint when this happened. I just know that one day I looked up and if I was watching a movie where people suddenly broke into song, I couldn’t change the channel fast enough. My patience, my tolerance for the lighthearted, at least in that fashion, had died a mysterious and flinty death. My tastes had switched from the likes of ‘The Sound of Music” to “Shaun of the Dead,” and so knowing this, I did try to keep an open mind while viewing the movie.
Immediately from the opening scene, however, I knew the brutal demise of my love of musicals, of the inconceivable which bordered on sweetness and joy, instead of that of dark humor and sarcasm, was alive and with me still.
The word “magical” seemed to be key where this movie was concerned and there were some enchanting moments like the Griffith Park “dancing among the stars” scene and a sometimes sunny, sometimes soulful soundtrack that followed the characters around, lending a whimsicality to even the most banal of activities.
But I attributed these scenarios to the universality of shared experiences rather than anything to do specifically with L.A.; the intense dopamine-enhanced sensation of new love, the incandescent view of the city at night, the ultra-brightness of the sky when dreams are still possible.
Mia’s giant Ingrid Bergman wall painting, the ghostly mural of old Hollywood stars on a building, a pool party taking place on a bright sunny day, and Mia’s job on the movie lot were nice touches, evoking the *feel* of Los Angeles in a visually pleasing yet predictable way.
I thought maybe “out of towners” really fell for this movie, seduced by the romantic images. Maybe merely being an Angeleno prevented me from absorbing the Los Angeles + wonder connection. I don’t know. To me, it really is a lost city, having little or no solid identity, little or no loyalty, even, to itself. At least one comment rang really true when Sebastian said, “They worship everything and value nothing.”
In order not to come off as an inflexible curmudgeon by listing everything that didn’t sit well with me in “La La Land,” including the fact that ethnic people, apart from Ryan Gossling’s jazz buddy and Emma Stone’s mulatto roommate, were eye-poppingly missing except for intermittent scenes where they were dancing or playing jazz (in the same vein as the New York of “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” 90% white enclaves buried in a city known for–even famous for–its tremendous diversity) I’ll describe what I did like about this movie.
I liked the ending. Not being sarcastic. I liked it when, years later, Sebastian remembers the night he met Mia, and instead of rudely shouldering past her as she tries to compliment his piano playing, he sweeps her up in a one-armed embrace, setting alternative events into play involving the love and success and life they should have had together.
It reminded me of the end of Diane Lane’s movie “Unfaithful” where, after everything that possibly could go wrong has gone wrong, she imagines the windy day when she first ran into Olivier Martinez’s character. But instead of getting together and having what would eventually become a disastrous affair, they help each other up, sort out their possessions, and, laughing, each goes their separate way.
And in “La La Land’s” case, going their separate ways was probably inevitable, doomed from the start by self-doubt and precarious hope. Their desire to “make it” ended up being much larger than any feelings they had for each other, so Sebastian’s poignant “what if” imaginings seemed fitting and appropriate for a relationship not exactly shallow but definitely not penetrating deep enough, a perfect parallel for most L.A. life in general.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against dreams and hope and aspiration and dancing in the sky. But regret is something I can relate to, as can most people, whether they want to admit it or not, and so the core of the movie seemed to me like it was baked into the very end, and there it was the most romantic, the most possible, the most real.