La La Land, by Albert W. Vogt III

La La Land (2016) is a musical that I have seen.  The end.  Thank you for reading!  Please subscribe to The Legionnaire!

I am kidding, of course, though not about seeing La La Land, unfortunately.  That part is sadly true.  My distaste for this particular musical goes beyond its format.  It is not that everyone was all about it for the two seconds of fame it enjoyed around the time it premiered.  It is because of the way the movie hits a little too close to home.  A dear friend of mine once encouraged me to, instead of avoiding the movies that tug at the heart strings in uncomfortable ways, embrace them in a form of catharsis.  Well, here you go.

La La Land is a play on the city of Los Angeles, a place where dreams come true.  You would not know it from the opening scene.  Our two main characters, though they do not yet know each other, are stuck in Tinseltown’s notorious traffic.  They are pursuing their separate ambitions.  Sebastian “Seb” Wilder (Ryan Gosling) wants to be a jazz performer, and Amelia “Mia” Dolan (Emma Stone) longs for a career in Hollywood.  Eventually, traffic gets moving again, but not before the first of the many song and dance numbers that I loathe.  Mia is on her way to audition, which goes poorly.  To cheer her up, that night her roommates take her out for a night on the town.  The idea is that she will get noticed by somebody at the party they plan to attend.  It does not happen, and to make matters worse, her car is towed.  Walking home, she happens upon the jazz club where Seb is playing.  The venue’s owner, Bill (J. K. Simmons), only wants seasonally appropriate Christmas songs.  This chafes against Seb’s creative side as he longs to play his own music.  Though he complies for a little bit, he cannot resist mixing in some of his own tunes.  This is when Mia finally walks into his life.  Their introduction does not go well.  Bill fires him.  They have an exchange, with Mia complimenting his piece, but Seb rudely brushes off her comments.  A few months pass and they meet again, this time at another party.  Seb is now part of a band doing 1980s covers, and they are also covered with the kind of clothing you would expect from that era. She mocks him, and he fires back, but clearly there is chemistry between them.  Also, by the end of the night it is revealed that Mia currently has a boyfriend, Greg (Finn Wittrock).  Though they note the supposed coincidence that they keep running into each other, they once more go their separate ways.  This time, though, they keep in touch, and Seb begins visiting Mia at her job as a barista in the Warner Brothers studio backlot.  It is during one of these drop-ins that she tells him about her love for acting.  This leads to him inviting her to a showing of Rebel Without a Cause (1955).  The showing happens to be on the same night as a planned date with Greg.  Yet, since Mia is growing in her attraction to Seb, she ditches Greg.  Things are going swimmingly now between the two, and it is not long before they move in together.  Their personal lives are great, but their professional lives are going in undesired directions.  For Seb, an invitation from one of his former bandmates, Keith (John Legend), to form a new jazz fusion group is taken with reservations.  He does so because he believes that the life of a struggling musician is not one that appeals to Mia in the long run.  As for Mia, a series of failed auditions leads to her attempting a new strategy.  With Seb’s encouragement, she decides to write and perform a one woman play.  This, too, is a flop.  It is poorly attended, not only by the paying public, but by Seb himself.  His excuse is that he had a photo shoot with the band about which he had forgotten.  The directions they had been taking their careers of late had been putting a strain on their relationship.  Seb not being there for the play is the final straw for Mia.  With a comment about him giving up on his dreams, and him coming back with her liking him when he was poor, they break up.  Seb, though, gets a phone call from a casting director who actually saw Mia’s play, saying that he would like her to audition for an upcoming film.  Given the nature of their separation, he has to drive to her hometown in Nevada to bring her the news about the potential part.  With a new sense of purpose, she appears before the casting director and delivers a moving performance.  Seb believes she will get the part, but she does not believe that they will be together.  It then moves five years into the future.  Mia, now a famous movie star, is preparing for a night out with her husband David (Tom Everett Scott).  They stop in at a local club they happen upon, and one bearing the logo that Mia once designed for Seb.  And there he is, sitting at the piano in his own establishment.  He sees her in the crowd, and plays a melody he had written for her.  As it goes along, we see him imagining what their lives could have been had they stayed a couple.  But it was all a dream, and with a simple smile between the two, she leaves.

I get that the termination of the relationship between Mia and Seb in La La Land was at least amicable, but I do not like it when in movies the couple do not end up together.  Part of this has to do with my own failures with the women I have dated.  I hope to see successful couples because it is good that others can have that kind of happiness.  What it comes down to in the Catholic sense is doing that to which you are called.  Mia and Seb have a sense of purpose in their lives.  Unfortunately, they cannot seem to find a way to make their goals mesh.  We have to do that which God wills for our lives.  I will grant that everyone has their unique way of discovering this path.  Not finding it, though, more often leads to added heartache, or worse.  The final sequence in the film really hits me in all the feels because I can put myself in the place of Seb, sitting there alone at his piano.  He is living his dream, like Mia.  Yet, dash it if the road to get there is not fraught with so many emotionally painful pitfalls.  These experiences leave scars, and they are not easily healed.  The tears I shed in seeing the conclusion to the film should be evidence enough to convince you.  The only real solace for these moments is God.  He knows best how our lives should proceed.  While the film does not speak to Faith in the slightest, I like to think that knowledge that they are doing the right thing is why Mia and Seb are able to smile at one another.  It is not easy, but it is right.

So, yes, La La Land also proves that I am a big softy.  At the same time, I do not like it.  It is not because of what it reveals about me.  While I prefer not to confront those times of loss in such vivid color on the screen, my dislike comes from it being a musical.  If you like those sorts of things, then I suppose you would be into this one.  As for me, I will deal with my own wistful thoughts as they come up.

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