La La Land: Conflicting Dreams


La La Land is about contrasts and choices. The film starts with lots of light, a bright color palate, and an energetic, upbeat a song and dance…hopes and dreams. The film ends in a dimly lit club, with bluesy jazz…regret and acceptance. The film communicates a contrast between the pure joy of developing a talent and engaging in art and the self-aggrandizing, greedy, prideful world that promotes and monetizes art. It juxtaposes homages to mid-20th century musicals with modern-day challenges of pursuing an artistic career in L.A. The story centers around relationship of an actress and a musician who meet and fall in love in L.A. and on the tension created as they try to balance their relationship with pursuing their separate career dreams. La La Land considers the difference between the romance of dreams pursued with the reality the dreams realized.

No matter what career we choose to pursue, we all have limited time and resources to put into making a success of it. There are lots of stressors. Careers that require creative energy involve depleting emotional as well as mental and physical resources. Struggling financially and working additional jobs to support the artistic dream adds to the stress. Then there is the working environment and culture. The entertainment industry, especially in L.A., can be a brutal environment for dreamers and lovers. La La Land explores the effect of all of these stressors on a relationship. And it manages to do this effectively as a musical.

The song and dance numbers pay homage to mid-20th century Hollywood musicals. Perhaps making La La Land a musical  communicates another truth about the compromises and choices the entertainment industry requires for success. Sebastian and Mia each struggle with compromising their art in order to be part of the song and dance. Ultimately, though,  no matter where the relationship is going or not going, the dream is always bigger than the relationship. No matter what is happening personally the song and dance is the important thing. This is the ethos of La La Land.


While the kinds of stresses and compromises L.A. demands might be unique to that environment, anyone who has come to a crossroads and had to choose can relate to La La Land‘s final montage sequence. It’s a contemplation of the road not taken. It’s an artistic rendering of that momentary exercise in futility when we image what might have been. It also reinforces the ethos that brought them together and tears them apart. Their artistic dreams remain the focus, it’s just that in Mia’s dream there is some way they can realize their conflicting dreams together. The final scene offers closure and acceptance of reality.

When I walked out of La La Land I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not. If I put on my Romantic hat, I definitely didn’t like the final scene. I felt disappointed when the movie ended.  I wanted the dream to be the reality. But then, after thinking about it and putting on my Narrative hat, it had to end like that. Even when dreams are realized the reality never looks like it did as a dream. Fourteen Oscar nominations feels a little like Hollywood contemplating it’s own navel. But then, it’s a musical that has the potential to make everyone contemplate their own navels and that’s quite a feat. So okay.


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