La La Land

Posted on January 16, 2017


At the end of your life, your relationships are all you’ve got.  Sara Groves

It’s all worth nothing alone.  Graham Parker

SPOILER ALERT.  If you have not seen La La Land and you do not want to know how it ends, read no further.  I am going to talk about the end of the film.  Still reading?  Okay.  I warned you.

I have a fondest for musicals.  My father was a high school band director and the school where he taught put on annual musicals.  Consequently, I grew up seeing many of the major musicals of the last century.  With perhaps the exception of West Side Story which was basically a reworking of Romeo and Juliet, one can generally count on a happy ending.  I like happy endings.  The male and female leads should end up together.  If she has two suitors, she should choose the one with whom I most identify.  If he is choosing between two women, he should choose the sweet one.  Simple, predictable, and I leave the theater feeling happy.

Let’s talk about La La Land.  La La Land is a story about the relationship between Mia and Sebastian.  She is an aspiring actress working as a barista at Starbucks on the Warner Bros lot.  He is a struggling jazz musician.  Her dream is to be successful as an actress.  His is to have his own nightclub that can be true to the roots of jazz music.

In typical musical fashion, they don’t like each other at their initial meeting (largely because he is rude).  They get together.  They struggle separately trying to move their careers forward.  They struggle together relationally.  Eventually he is touring with a band and she is given the opportunity to make a movie in Paris.  He asserts that they each need to pursue their individual dreams.  She tells him that she will always love him.

Next we flash forward five years.  She is a famous actress, married to another man, and they have a child.  On an evening out, they stumble upon Sebastian’s jazz club (the logo for which was designed by her when they were in relationship).  He sees her in the audience as he begins to perform.  The rest of the audience fades into the black and there is only her.  As he plays, he re-envisions their relationship.  In the course of that vision, he corrects the mistakes he made during the relationship.  At the initial meeting, instead of pushing past her, he sweets her up in his arms and kisses her.  When she performs her one-woman play that she wrote and produced, he is there (as part of a now full house).  They go to Paris together.  They have a family.  When he finishes performing, their eyes meet as she is leaving the club.  She gives him a slight wistful smile as she leaves.

Both Mia and Sebastian had their dreams come true.  To my thinking, she got the happy ending.  He did not.  She ended up with a husband and family.  For the amount we get to know him, he seems like a good husband and father, and they appear to have a good relationship.  Sebastian got what he wanted, but is left imagining how life would have been different if he had made their relationship his priority.

I left the theater feeling saddened.

I have often offered the observation that Les Miserables[1] is a cautionary tale about the dangers of mixing testosterone and alcohol.  Those poor stupid boys all get themselves killed thinking they can bring about a successful revolution.  Perhaps La La Land is a cautionary tale about the dangers of putting what you think you want it front of the relationship.   There is a danger that someday you will look back and wish you had treated your partner better and made decisions that put the relationship at the center of your life.  Someone worth hanging onto is worth hanging onto.  That may seem obvious (by the reflexive property of equality for you mathematicians), but we often don’t act that way in close relationships.   As Don Henley once sang, “If you find somebody to love in this world, you better hold on tooth and nail.  The wolf is always at the door.”  Partners are to be cherished, made a priority.

Human beings are made for relationship.  Our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being is tied to the quality of our relationships.  Relationships are worth the effort and inconvenience to make them a priority.

[1] I happen to really like Les Mis so I am not dissing it here.