[Spoiler Alert] Engrained in my mind is the final scene of the film – the final look. As the epilogue concludes, Mia (actress Emma Stone) follows her husband out of the club, but not before looking back at Sebastian (actor Ryan Gosling) for what's probably the last time. We see a close-up of her face as she looks at him, and of Sebastian's as he meets her gaze. Their eyes lock and you can see the emotion loud and clear. It's momentary, but there's a real sense of finality to it. And it hits hard. It’s a look of longing, pain, and heartbreak, but also of pride, fulfillment, and appreciation. Their eyes express a lamentation for what was and what could’ve been – all while acknowledging their present, and how far they’ve both come over the past five years.
La La Land focuses on the pursuit and achievement of your dreams, no matter what the cost. It drives home the importance of seeing a goal through and confronts the reality of who you may lose in the process. Stripped of its cotton candy skies and endearing numbers, it’s a film that depicts the bustling intersection that is establishing your career and cultivating a relationship with your partner. It’s a refreshing departure from the cliché, prototypical love story we so frequently see, and admittedly, it took me some time to accept the fact that (spoiler alert…) Mia and Sebastian don’t end up together. It sucks. It hurts. But it’s real…and it scared me.
The film doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of navigating through a relationship while grasping at your dreams – nor does it provide the viewer with the promise that you acquire both in the end.
The idea of losing someone you love in exchange for attaining your dream career is something that hits close to home, which is why I was immediately invested in Mia and Sebastian’s relationship. They emulate the fear that many individuals (including myself) have, but are not necessarily willing to admit – and that’s the fear of having to choose between a type of love that comes once in a lifetime and the opportunity to bring your dream career into fruition. The film doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of navigating through a relationship while grasping at your dreams – nor does it provide the viewer with the promise that you acquire both in the end. Instead, La La Land candidly depicts the tension between love and career, and how divergent these paths may be.
As the tension builds, the film’s tone undergoes a steady regression, from light and whimsical to heavy and serious. Mia and Sebastian’s relationship begins to unravel once the film hits its midpoint, and it’s heartbreaking to witness – the vivid colors, cheery dance numbers, and magical realism is swapped out for darker hues, poignant confrontations, and a gut-wrenching dose of reality – albeit the alternate reality sequence.
By way of those eight fleeting minutes, the film gives us exactly what we want: we get to peek into Mia’s mind – into her own La La Land: the life she wishes she had if only Sebastian had followed her to Paris. The audience now sees their lives unfold (amidst a Technicolor, pop-up book-esque set) with Mia pursuing her acting career and Sebastian working at (not owning) a jazz club. But perhaps the most poignant part of this montage is the grainy home video – the music slows and the camera closes in on the sepia-toned film, as we watch Mia and Sebastian settle into their own place, caress their newborn baby, and spend time together as a family. It’s fake and it’s imaginative, but it’s exactly what Mia wanted, and it’s safe to assume that Sebastian reciprocated this sentiment too.
Too often, we are bombarded with musicals and romantic films that rank falling and staying in love above everything else, but La La Land foregoes convention and predictability – it turns your stereotypical musical-slash-romance film on its head by reinforcing the essentiality of prioritizing yourself and your own dreams.
However, this dreamy, magical, alternate reality would’ve made for a perfect ending had La La Land taken after one of those enchanting old-fashioned musicals, but it doesn’t – the film subverts this happily ever after expectation by leaving us with a somber yet allegorical outcome. Too often, we are bombarded with musicals and romantic films that rank falling and staying in love above everything else, but La La Land foregoes convention and predictability – it turns your stereotypical musical-slash-romance film on its head by reinforcing the essentiality of prioritizing yourself and your own dreams.
La La Land is a film dedicated to the vulnerable, the hopeless romantics, and the dreamers. It indulges the inherent, foolish part of ourselves that dreams we could have it all, but grounds us with the realization that life doesn’t always work out how we want it to. Rather than lament the loss of love, La La Land ends on a more satisfying note – with Mia and Sebastian grinning at each other with pride, knowing that they’ve both achieved their dreams and that they were a part of each other’s lives just as they were coming to fruition. Ultimately, the film celebrates resilience and individuality, for in spite of any setbacks, Mia and Sebastian were finally able to immerse themselves in their incandescent dream worlds made out of music and machines – proving that while their romance may have only existed in "la la land", their careers were destined for much more.