So here's the thing. I haven't reviewed a movie in years. I guess with age and maturity comes the realization that my opinion is just that: my opinion, and who cares what I think about movies besides me? But several people asked for my review on this particular movie so I'm dusting off my laptop, my blog, and my thumbs (you know, like Siskel and Ebert). Also because after thinking about this movie every day since I watched it last week, I've finally processed my feels and sort of kind of figured out what I want to say about it.
These were the things that I thoroughly enjoyed about La La Land:
- No sex, not a ton of language (just the token F word that all PG13 movies just cannot live without these days, don't get me started on that). Just a good, clean, wonderful, feel-good musical love story.
- The music and dancing. I mean, seriously. How can you not love it? A modern day musical with a 50's feel (the wardrobe! the colors!) set to jazz, performed by two of the biggest Hollywood actors in the world? The music is so fun and catchy and gets stuck in your head and just makes you so happy and I could watch Emma and Ryan dance together in their B&W jazz shoes all. day. long. And, like Mia (Emma's character), I don't even like jazz. At all. (Don't tell Sebastian.)
- The movie is a love letter to L.A. Which brings us to the main reason I loved this movie so much. My whole life I've been kind of obsessed with acting, movies, Southern California, celebrities, etc. All things Hollywood. Besides an author, the only thing I've ever wanted to be is an actress, and somewhere deep inside me lives that girl that longs to be on the big screen. So following Mia's often painful journey to making it in Hollywood resonated with me in a big way. More than that, though, was that less than two months ago my family and I took a vacation to L.A. for a week. Not a day goes by that I don't dream of the palm trees, the smells, the perfect weather, the beach, the theme parks, the food, the overall fairytale feeling of it (which is why its nickname, La La Land, is so accurate). I mentally go back to Anaheim, Hollywood, Santa Monica, and just smile. Somehow La La Land (the movie) perfectly captured the picturesque, dreamlike quality of Hollywood and portrays it exactly as I imagined it would be like to live there, as a struggling actress trying to make it. It intentionally sugarcoats L.A., cutting out the grit and grime that is prevalent through much of the sprawling city, showing only the bright, pretty, clean, fun version of Hollywood that most people envision in their disillusioned SoCal fantasies. And I love it. So many scenes with the Hollywood hills as the backdrop, pool parties in winter, dancing at twilight with the lights of the city lit up beneath them, the views breathtaking. It made me want to hop the next plane to LAX.
- The ending. Read further for more on that.
***** SPOILERS AHEAD!!!! CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!! *****
First, let me thank my mom and my friend for "warning me" that they hated the ending. Note to all people who watch movies and talk about them to people who haven't seen them yet: If you say you hated the way a romance ended, you haven't just spoken in some uncrackable code. You basically just told everyone that the two love interests don't end up together. There's literally no other explanation for hating the ending of a romance. The end.
However, my thanks to them is actually genuine. Had I been expecting a happy ending, the fact that Mia and Sebastian go their separate ways at the end would have been a serious blow. But since I knew now not to expect a happy ending, I could just enjoy it for what it was. And what it was was AWESOME. Here's why:
It's realistic. 100% realistic. Another thing that age and maturity have brought me is an appreciation for reality and less of an infatuation with romance and happy endings. Romance and love come in many forms and this ending was so one of them. The movie was based on two people fighting to achieve their dreams, dreams they wanted more than anything in the world. They both knew this. They both knew that love, however great it was, would take a backseat to their big break if they ever got it. Repeatedly they supported each other in working toward their goals, encouraging one another to choose opportunities of success over their relationship. And in the end, their goals won, as they should have in a movie all about people desperately reaching for their goals. Would it have been awesome if they both got exactly what they'd dreamt of for so long AND got each other? Yes! Would it have been realistic? Not at all! (Can you name one celebrity who's made it big AND has managed to keep a successful relationship?) It would have made for a very convenient happy ending purely for the sake of pleasing the masses. And that's just lame.
BUT...if it's romance you're wanting, if you were just so invested in Seb and Mia's relationship that you just had to see that after everything, they still meant so much to each other, you got it. Although Mia winds up married to someone else (baby and all) after becoming a huge star, she and Sebastian share one of the most beautiful, romantic scenes together (without anyone cheating, imagine that!) in the form of a fantasy sequence. After stumbling unknowingly into Sebastian's jazz club with her husband, Mia sees him (Sebastian) at the piano and almost stops breathing. They look at each other. The club and everyone in it seems to cease existing in that moment. It's just the two of them. He begins to play their theme, the song he was playing on the piano the first time they met. Soon they are both transported into an alternate storyline, reliving each key scene in the movie as if everything had gone perfectly in their relationship and they'd stayed together. Mia envisioned him following her to Paris on her big break, marrying him instead and having a baby with him. It's beautiful, and emotional, and heartbreaking, and beautiful, and so very, very realistic. (And did I mention beautiful?) Who hasn't wondered what their life would be like if things had gone differently? Even the happiest person in the happiest marriage has wondered what their life might have been like if they'd ended up with someone else, or done things differently.
The sequence ends. Sebastian stops playing. They're brought back to reality, to the club, where Mia and her husband get up to leave. But just before exiting the club Mia stops and turns around, looking at Sebastian. He looks up from the piano, right at her. One long, meaningful look that tells them both all they need to know: that what they shared was everything. That it meant something big and something real. That even though they didn't end up together they were so important in each other's lives, in pushing each other to realize their dreams. And, just like the last thing they told each other before Mia left for Paris, (effectively ending their relationship,) they would always love each other. He smiles at her. She smiles back. And they know everything is as it should be.
Perfection. A magical ending that makes me swoon every time I think of it. I'm sure there's some deep meaning in the fact that a movie called La La Land prides itself in an ending based on reality (the director fought hard to keep his realistic ending and refused to change it even at the risk of never getting the movie made) and not some fairytale "they all lived happily ever after" but for now all I can say is it's ironic? I don't know, it's too much thinking for me. So I'll just enjoy it and tell the naysayers to watch it again. I hear people like it better the second time.
And I'll just be here, listening to the soundtrack on repeat and dreaming of California.