So, About That Ending To LA LA LAND (SPOILERS)

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UPDATED: 02/14/17, with new postscript.

(SPOILERS to the ending of La La Land are discussed below. To read my full non-spoiler review, click here.)

Despite being the choice du jour for film critics groups and musical-loving audiences, La La Land has an ending with the potential to be polarizing.

I made a nod to this, cryptically, with two statements from my review, once near the beginning and then again at the very end:

La La Land is also told on a modest scale with a melancholy heart that feels much more off-Broadway than on….Like It’s A Wonderful Life, it asks us to consider which dreams are the most important, but does so in its own bittersweet way.”

In other words (spoiler alert), they don’t end up together.

A good friend of mine (and hopeless romantic; God bless her, I can sympathize) e-mailed me with this lament right after seeing it:

  • Why couldn’t they have ended up together??? I was so sad. It seemed fatalistic in the worst way!! The romantic in me wants it to have gone the other way.

She followed that up a few days later with:

  • Okay, I keep thinking about La La Land. And I’m still not happy with it. I think if you’re going to make a sweeping, singy, dancy musical, it needs to be the kind of movie you want to watch over and over. And it needs a happy ending.

Quick, two episodes of Gilmore Girls, stat.

I’ll defend the ending because I actually think it’s brilliant, well beyond its inspired construct and all the way through to its thematic and philosophical implications. It’s what elevates the piece from artfully-rendered nostalgia fluff to something truly substantial.

Here was my response to my friend:

  • Not at all fatalistic. Bittersweet, yes, but I thought there was a beauty to it actually. The ending asks us to consider which dreams are more important: our careers and personal passions, or the people we fall in love with. It doesn’t necessarily answer that question, which is good, but it does imply that dreams come at a cost. Like a warning, it suggests that perhaps people and love are the better choices than dreams and passions. This is a good message, made with greater impact given how it ended. That said there’s a beauty, too, in Mia not running back to Sebastian, for continuing to choose her husband, her family, and the life she created as a result of deciding to pursue her dreams. I felt that her decision made for a very mature, even moral ending. And again, it has the virtue of resonating more powerfully – and causes the viewer to consider his or her life choices more seriously – than if it had ended more romantically. Fate, at most, brings people together, but from there it’s about our choices. We can’t expect fate to make everything work out on our behalf.

And then I added:

  • It’s not only a love story for grown ups; it’s a love story that actually requires the romantics to be grown ups.

Her reaction:

  • I agree with all of that. I love the points you made about it, and story-wise they are true, but I think La La Land was the wrong place for it. I don’t ever want to see it again.

Well okay then.

POSTSCRIPT, 02/14/17

A couple of things worth adding since this original post: a friend of my friend nutshells everything I was trying to say, plus Emma Stone and Damien Chazelle actually talk about it.

First, Stone and Chazelle. This is an excerpt from a Variety interview, in which they were asked about the ending.

VARIETY: Finally, I wonder how you perceive this relationship on the screen. For me — SLIGHT SPOILERS — I didn’t see it as a grand love story as much as a key relationship in two people’s lives, and that they represented for each other the drive and passion of chasing their dreams. They enter each other’s lives at that key moment, help each other grab that next rung, and take their exit from one another’s paths. So I’m not necessarily sad at the end of the movie.

STONE: It resonates in that way for me, too, except the ending does break my heart, because of what different choices might have led to. But I agree with you. In a sense it can be about someone who inspired you to do what you need to do, and you inspired them to follow what they needed to do. But I think there’s something amazing about that ending, that everyone can relate to that in some way. I just think it’s beautiful that people are having different versions of that.

CHAZELLE: They can take ownership of it, which is what you hope.

And finally, my friend who inspired this blog post was kind enough to send me a comment from another discussion thread about La La‘s ending, made by a friend of her’s. His name is Kevin, and he sums things up really well, I think. First you’ll see a comment prior to Kevin’s, and then Kevin’s response:

MATTHEW: “Romance runs deep for me, and that felt like a romantic horror film.”

KEVIN: “I disagree. I think it was a huge affirmation of love and romance and the price we pay when we make other things more important than the people we love. Neither one was willing to surrender their dream, so they lost each other, even though they both achieved their goal. It’s a tragic story that did bother me, but that’s a good thing!”

That’s all I’m saying. And if you disagree: pichi caca.

8 thoughts on “So, About That Ending To LA LA LAND (SPOILERS)

  1. I actually thought the montage showed also why they did not end up together.

    I mean the montage showed what would happen if different choices where made it starts with him kissing her when she praised her music. Him attending her one woman show and going to Paris with her.

    Perhaps she chose not to contact him and marry her current hubby because her hubby DOES do things.

    Perhaps love is more that feelings but actions too. I think it is significant that her what if does not start with him going to Paris with her but way earlier.

    We get so caught up in emotions on love but love is a choice. The person you are most attracted to may not be the best spouse

  2. Very good point. There may be chemistry, even potent, but at some point a person may not be wired (or disciplined) to meet needs that are vital to you. And you decide you can’t live that way.

    What you wrote didn’t dawn on me the one time I’ve seen it, but great films always reveal more on multiple viewings. I’ll look for that one.

  3. just saw this movie yesterday with my son. We were so upset at the end of this movie that we actually saw an other movie that would make us happy and forget this nightmare.

    I felt mislead by a movie filled with music, laughter. It’s just like when you are a kid and someone gives you a lollipop with a gum in the middle. You lick and lick waiting for the climax of reaching that gum and then someone takes away your pop. Not a happy feeling..

    By the way a couple of my friends saw the movie and had the same reaction.

    I will not be seeing this movie again.

    1. Honestly, I’m surprised more people haven’t responded like you did, Vivian, but they may become more outspoken as it gets seen throughout the Awards season.

      If you’d like to read some comments from kindred spirits, check out the lengthy comment thread from when I posted this on my Facebook page.

      (Click on the Facebook icon in the upper right corner of that image to get to the actual page with the thread. Clicking elsewhere on the image will take you directly to the article or main Facebook page.)

  4. I also agree with Vivian and your friend who were disappointed. I disagree that this movie shows that romantics need to be grown ups. It shows that some people are really selfish and would make compromises to stay with the person they love. My boyfriend and I are in a long distance relationship and we really hold on to it and would do as much as we can to stay together yet fulfill our dreams because that’ s what grown up love really is about. Not giving each other up because carrier and money is more important… That’s for materialists and spoiled people who only care about what they whant…

    1. Eliza, I genuinely appreciate and respect the life choices you and your boyfriend have made, and will continue to. I applaud them and root for you both. But I still think you’re being unfair to this movie. A few things:

      1. Regardless if someone liked the ending to this or not, or the choices that were made, I can’t wrap my head around any characterization of these two people as selfish. They were sacrificial for each other, pushing each other toward their best potentials, at times when they themselves had begun to doubt their own abilities and dreams. They clearly cared about each other, even more than themselves. The fact that life gets complicated and can require tough choices doesn’t make either of these two selfish. In fact, if Mia had run back to Sebastian at the very end and left her husband and child, that would’ve been selfish. Was relieved that didn’t happen.

      2. The movie is requiring its leads to be grownups, but it’s not saying that all romantics *need* to be grownups in the most cynical sense (or even at all). It’s presenting a reality that, yes, at times, romantics are faced with tough conflicting choices. Each person is going to process those choices based on their own histories, needs, etc. A lot of movies don’t have the courage to go there. More need to, and I’m glad this one did.

      3. I think it’s unfair to judge these two characters, their lives, and their choices simply because you or others have been able to work things out differently (and I applaud you for what you’ve worked on, that is highly commendable). It’s the same as being unfair to actual real people who go different routes than the one’s we choose for ourselves. There are an unquantifiable level of variables that make each relationship, and situation (or situations), unique. Nobody here in this movie did anything quantifiably immoral. Given that, I think more respect and deference has to be allowed to choices that differ from our own. We’re all wired differently. We all have different needs, different cups that need to be filled (and emptied), and we will all respond differently to different situations and choices. To suggest that these two are selfish is to make a whole lot of assumptions about the 5 years we didn’t see when they went their separate ways, and nothing we actually see onscreen tells us that they were selfish. If anything, we saw each making sacrifices for the other, but they struggled to work out the conflicts and misunderstandings that arose from those sacrifices. That’s sad, but it’s not wrong, nor is it selfish. Therefore, to assume it was selfishness that occurred in the five year interim is an unfair leap in my mind.

      All that to say – it’s still very worthwhile to examine these kinds of choices, even though we should reserve judgment, because it is good for us to ask, “Given what’s important to me, if I’m ever faced with a similar kind of choice, or series of choices, which choices do I want to make?” Even if Mia and Sebastian are secure in their choices, you can’t help but sense there’s a bittersweet regret their too, each wondering if there could’ve been a different path, a better way, as Chazelle depicted in the alternative “what if”. There’s a “maybe I should’ve…” element to that ending, and that’s a good thing.

      In other words, you can – based on your own life – encourage someone that there is a better way, without having to say that a way like this one is inherently bad or selfish. I don’t think the film is judging life decisions like yours, or my friend’s; the context of the Alternative path is clearly not a negative or judgmental. It’s contemplative. And that’s worthwhile.

      1. Thing is: there wasn’t any reason to break up the relationship in the first place! At least, I couldn’t find any. They could have supported each other in pursuing their goals and still stay together! I cannot see, why splitting was necessary. Sure, they would’ve had to circumvent obstacles – distance, dedication to their activities, much time not spent together – and that is a sacrifice in itself (much better sacrifice, than splitting). Splitting was just the dumbest choice of all, because there was no reason to do so. What about splitting in this story is supposed to be “mature”? You only split, if feelings are not strong enough.

        1. Yes, it’s true that we never see why splitting may have been necessary, because whatever led to the split occurred off screen in that five year gap between her choosing the role that would take her to France and the ending we saw. But just because we don’t see the reason doesn’t mean there wasn’t one, whether something serious or, simply, the inertia of life going down two different roads (by their own choices) led them to where they’re at now. Or they realized that, despite their love, they wanted different things out of life. Regardless, we don’t have all the info, so we can’t rightly judge the split as dumb or unreasonable. We can simply lament with both of them that, despite their individual dreams being reached, they weren’t able to reconcile those achievements with a life together. But bottom line, people are wired differently so we can’t judge them by our own needs and own life circumstances.

          Even so, their bittersweet regret would seem to indicate that, deep down, they actually came to agree with and hold the same sentiment of all the viewing romantics who are hating on them.

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