Darkness of Dreams in La La Land

We got to Tinseltown way too late. My parents had dawdled and now I was grumpy, sitting in the very front and trying to get my mom to stop whispering loudly about how terrible the previews looked. I took a deep breath and let it go, ready to let the magic of La La Land (2016), which I had watched (and loved) with my boyfriend two weeks ago, wash over me again.

And it did.

The nostalgic musical film La La Land is directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Ryan Gosling as Sebastian and Emma Stone as Mia–a modern take on an old Hollywood couple.

The film moves away from realism with its bright and melodic musical scenes: A group of roommates dressed in primary colors sashay into a Hollywood party. Mia and Sebastian tap dance in front of a Hollywood hills sunset, literally dancing the traditional will-they-or-won’t-they romantic duet. Mia and Sebastian float into the stars while on their first date at the Griffith Observatory.

Yet, despite La La Land’s dreaminess, Chazelle isn’t afraid to acknowledge the movie’s fictional-state by injecting doses of reality. In the above mentioned Hollywood party, Mia starts out looking radiant in a gemstone-bright blue dress, but her face grows sadder as the music slows and slows and she endures banal small talk with the slim chance of meeting that “someone in the crowd” to help her make it big. After Mia and Sebastian’s romantic tap dance, Mia is left trying to find her car in a sea of L.A. Priuses. The romance that begins in stars soon falls to earth as Mia and Sebastian face the conflict between their individual ambitions and their love for each other.

In La La Land, you can dance on your car in the city traffic but when the dance is over you’ll be flipped off for not moving fast enough. You can have a great love that doesn’t last.

After the movie ended, my parents complained about the film’s dancing, jazz, and naivety. But our biggest argument was about the ending: was it happy or sad, fated or chanced, selfish or realistic? My mom landed on happy, chanced, and realistic. “I don’t see why you were so sad. They both got what they wanted and that seems pretty lucky.” My dad landed on selfish, wondering whether the two could’ve worked it out by compromising just a bit.

I, however, believe that the film had been guiding us to this ending all along. Dreams, dreamers, and the dreamy world that La La Land lauds will always butt up against the constraints of reality (including realities needed to sustain a long term romance). Chazelle’s dreamers are not so much naïve as stoic. Love requires realism; in ignoring realism, they can have their dreams, but not complicated love. Dreamers constantly face reality (bigwig phone calls during emotional auditions, emotionally devastating unattended plays, great loves who’d require great sacrifice to make it work) and ultimately must bravely ignore it (even at the cost of love).

My parents, having already seen the arc of their narrative play out, don’t feel the urgency and desperation that this ending left me with. On the verge of graduating college with big dreams and competing realities, I think this conflict is somewhat tragic. –Maile McCann

Maile McCann ’18 is a government and psychology major at Wesleyan University.

La La Land
Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2h 8