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.
- 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.
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.