Short review of La La Land

Posted on February 5, 2017 with tags , . See the previous or next posts.

Warning: Spoilers below. Rant below. Much angry, MANY ALL-CAPS. You’ve been warned!

So, today we went to see “La La Land”, because I’ve heard good things about it, and because I do enjoy good musicals. And because of this, I wrote this post, instead of what I originally had in mind (related to kernel configuration).

Was it a good movie? Definitely yes. Was it a good musical? So and so. Did I like the ending? HELL NO, over and over NO.

The movie itself was much better than I expected. I don’t read plot details in advance nor real reviews, so I expected more of a musical, and less of a good plot. But the movie had a very good plot. Two young people, striving to fulfil their artistic dreams, fall in love, and they fight through-sometimes helping, sometimes hindering each other—until, finally, each gets their own breakthrough, etc.

The choice of actress was spot on—halfway through the movie, I was thinking that I can’t imagine the same plot played by a different actress. Of course many other actresses could have played the part, but Emma Stone played so well, I have trouble seeing the same character with the same always half-happy, half-sad attitude. The choice of actor was I think OK—at first I was in doubt, but he played also well. Or maybe it was just that I couldn’t identify with him at first. Not that I identify well with artists in general ☺

The dance scenes were OK, and the singing good, but as I said, the musical part was secondary to the actual struggles of the characters. The movie itself was, technically, very well done; a lot of filming was in bars/clubs/locations with difficult lighting, and the shooting was very good. They also had a scene on a pier, looking towards the ocean and the setting sun, and the characters walking towards the beach—so heavily back-lighted, and I kept thinking “If I get only one shot this perfectly exposed and colour correct(ed), I’m happy”. So high notes here.

Back to the plot. The story of how she and him fought their own struggles was very nicely told. Tick-tack, up and down (hope and rejection), leaning on the other to get morale back, is a captivating story. The cliff-hanger at the pre-end with her career, the going back home, the last minute save, all very well told.

So at this stage, I would have given the movie a 9/10. And I was happy.

Then we have the usual “one character has to go away to a far away country for a long time”, except in this case it was just 4 months. And they have the usual discussion “what do we do with our relation, where do we take it”, and she says “I will always love you”, to which he replies “And I will too” (or equivalent).

In my mind, this means they’ll have to survive during the break, they’ll have to also survive through his touring months/years, but in the end love will be stronger. Because this is what the movie told us until now, that she made it because of him, and he made it because of her. Neither of them would have been this strong without the other (he wouldn’t have picked up the invitation from his old pal, she wouldn’t have gone to the final audition request nor write the play which got her the audition/recognition). Estimated movie ending: awesome.

And then… something happens. The timeline jumps 5 years in the future (as expected), and she is famous, married (WITH SOMEONE ELSE) and happy mother of a 3-year old. Through fate, she and her husband enter the club of Sebastian (as he also fulfilled his dream), she and Sebastian see each other, he plays their song, during which we’re served a re-run of the movie but in stupid “everything goes well” style (all bad events eliminated), in which it is she and Sebastian who enter the club (which belongs now to somebody else), and then we’re back in real time, song ends, she and her husband leave, but before that she and Sebastian exchange one last smile, THE END.

And I’m sitting there, not believing my eyes. WHAT THE? So I get home, not write this post for four hours to calm down, but I can’t. Because this doesn’t make sense. AT ALL.

What does the internet say? Quoting from this CNN article, written exactly today. The director says:

“That ending was there from the get-go,” [director Damien Chazelle] told CNN in a recent interview. “I think I just have a thing about love stories where the lovers don’t wind up together at the end; I find it very romantic.”

Huh, excuse me?

“I think there’s a reason why most of the greatest love stories in history don’t end with happily ever after,” Chazelle said. “To me, if you’re telling a story about love, love has to be bigger than the characters.” Chazelle sees Mia and Sebastian’s love as a “third character” and something that “lives on.” “[The ending gives] you that sense that even if the relationship itself might be over in practical terms, the love is not over,” he said. “The love lasts, and I think that’s just a beautiful kind of thing.”

OH FOR THE LOVE OF. This is a wishy-washy explanation that tries to approach the thing from the artistic side. No, this is bullshit, because of multiple things. Let me try to roll back and explain what I think was the intention.

  1. An earlier fight between Mia and Sebastian points to the fact that they’re both very dedicated to their careers, and this means it’s hard for them to stay together if they both chase their dream. He has to be on tour, and she has to rehearse for her play, so they won’t see each other for at least two weeks (in this instance). Later, she calls him and leaves a message that she hasn’t seen him in a while (complex scene which ends in another fight, which is very well done). So we see the conflict that seems to say “You can’t have a relation of equals; one party has to give up their dream”. While this might be partially true in the real world, I don’t go to movies to see the real world.

  2. After the year-long window into their life, I can’t think that either Sebastian or Mia can be really successful without the other; because they are so alike, so passionate about their dreams, that a normal person wouldn’t be able to understand and push the other when they need. However, the ending show both Mia and Sebastian quite successful, so one has to wonder: did they make it alone? Sebastian seems so (we don’t see a partner for him), Mia unclear, likely not. How did Sebastian get through? What did Mia find in her husband?

  3. This is very one-sided, since I’m a man, so bear with me: Sebastian helped Mia through her tough time. Once she got the breakthrough (and they split), she found somebody else, and I have to wonder in what circumstances they met. In the sense that maybe her husband only knew “successful Mia” and not “struggling/aspiring Mia”. Her husband seems completely oblivious to all the eye contact between Mia and Sebastian in the club, seems to know Sebastian/about Sebastian not. How deep is their relation?

  4. This is still one sided, sorry. When they break up (before Mia leaves for Paris), Sebastian asks “so where do we go from here?”. Mia says “Nowhere”. He asks once more, she rejects him again. So after one year of mad love and cries and happy moments, he gives up over two sentences? He’s been following his dream (proper Jazz) in spite of all downturns in life until then, but he gives up on his real love over this? It doesn’t make sense; trying to identify my self with the character, I can’t reconcile this scene at all, unless he didn’t really love her.

So no, I don’t see them ending apart as romantic. I see it as the director is saying “You can’t have both love and your [career] dreams. Choose either.”, and he gives the “love” fake ending in the mini-re-roll of the movie, and the “career” wrong ending in the actual ending. And worse, he does it by negating significant parts of the character development done until now.

Moreover, this conclusion is wrong. Wrong because this is a movie, and if movies don’t manage to make you dream that you can achieve all, if movies tell you “choose either”, then all is lost. Their love is not a separate character; them struggling to find each other in the successful phase of their life, learning to adapt to the new “he” and “she”, would be the third thing. As it was shown, their love is simply a young love, that can’t really survive the changes in life; they each said “I’ll love you forever”, but with this ending it sounds more “I’ll cherish the memory of young you forever”. Or differently said, it sounded like a cheap excuse to use when ending their relationship, in order to not negate the relationship itself.

My version of the movie is another half hour long. It explains how Sebastian get over the “only jazz is pure old jazz” and manages to build a successful business around his old-style-but-modern jazz, instead of the pop-style jazz of the touring band (while thinking about her). It explains how Mia becomes a successful actress and gets over her first/second movies (while thinking about him), because one movie doesn’t make one really successful (that reminds me: 3 year old child after 5 year forward-jump? when/how did her career go?). Hell, make it even more bitter—show how their correspondence starts strong but becomes more and more sporadic over time, dying after the first 2 years. Show how both of them try other relations, and not find the same spark that they had before.

And then, after they have matured, they meet again. And, just like the first time, they fall for each other, once again. She for his music, him for her passion for acting/for acting itself. She finds that him naming his club after her suggestion is oh-so-grown-up-and-sweet, he is happy that she finally grew into what he saw in her from the beginning. And he sings their song once more.

But no. I’m not an artist, so I can only get the “die hope die die die love because I can” version. I still recommend the movie, but not the “after 5 years” scenes.

Also, I didn’t get time to bike today nor yesterday, so all you really get here is an ANGRY RANT. Because while I drink the coffee black and the tea without sugar, I like my happy endings, DAMN IT.