What does romance mean to you? Is it a relationship that comes full circle, closes the loop and ends up as a happily-ever-after? Is it unrequited love? Is it an affair where love never ends, but lives on even after the relationship has ended? If you’re sick of the regular romantic movies, where a happy ending is precluded at the start of the movie, then La La Land may be just that breath of fresh air you need to inhale.
The movie is a visual spectacle and a musical escape. The stars shine brighter than those in the sky. The songs are melodious and haunting. And the camera transports you to another world where dreams come true amidst love that lasts and relationships that don’t.
Meet Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). Mia is a struggling actress, working in a local coffee shop. She goes out with her friends to a party, after missing a call back from her most recent audition. After her friends split, she enters a restaurant and comes across Sebastian playing the piano. They have a somewhat awkward encounter as Sebastian is annoyed after getting fired from his job at the restaurant. The two run into each other again, months later, and over time they begin dating and fall intensely in love. However, they have their share of conflicts as they pursue their respective dreams: Sebastian as a jazz artist and Mia as an actress. They also guilt-trip each other into aiming higher to fulfill their aspirations. Their relationship ultimately falls to the wayside as a result of dueling ambitions.
“I’ll always love you.”
Mia tells Sebastian as they decide to part ways to pursue their respective careers. Sebastian responds with a calm “You know I’ll always love you too.” And then they go their separate ways.
Given my romantic inclinations, I was rooting for Sebastian and Mia all along. Why couldn’t they make things work? It’s not like they both wanted to be actors. But La La Land does have a point : Can two mega stars co-exist peacefully in a relationship?
Fast forward a few years, and it is revealed that Mia is married to someone else, has a child and is a successful actress. Sebastian, on the other hand, has fulfilled his ambition of owning a jazz club. The two cross paths when Mia and her husband wander into Sebastian’s club, pulled in by the music that they hear while strolling.
Sebastian is playing the piano. They catch each other’s eyes, share one last longing look and then Mia departs with her husband.
The ending is bittersweet as you watch the lead actors part ways once again after a brief encounter.
The movie ends and you are left with your own mixed emotions. While the cinematography and music is definitely par excellence, the love story was genuine and realistic. It showed two young people with stars in their eyes and love in their hearts, pursuing their own big dreams at cost of their relationship. There isn’t a tidy ending. But then love and romance, even in real life, is hardly neat and tidy. Like the Director quips, “To me, if you’re telling a story about love, love has to be bigger than the characters.”
In the movie, love is the third character and lives on even after the couple separate. Even though the relationship may be over for all intents and purposes, love endures and that’s sort of the great thing about the movie.
However, it does seem that there are no regrets at all. Both get what they want and you realize that perhaps their greater love was the one that they had for their dreams.
The film wins because it makes its audience fall in love with Mia and Sebastian and then gives you a gentle jolt as love is relegated to the backburner when faced with daily obstacles. Mia and Sebastian may not have got their happy ending, but they took comfort from knowing they would always love each other – and in their words, “always have Paris.”
Refusing to weigh in on the clash between romantic nostalgia and practical realism, La La Land is the perfect romantic movie for the unromantic. And for the romantic too, if you don’t mind a generous dose of reality.