Yes, La La Land Really Is That Good -

La La Land’s Golden Globe sweep with a record seven wins means we’re well over due for the usual backlash. It’s a staple these days. Some people like a thing, those folks build it up and then those who wouldn’t have even noticed otherwise snap back. And for La La Land, in particular, that backfire’s been… well… intense.

There’s definitely some stuff that doesn’t quite work. It is, for sure, a bit racist. Ryan Gosling does kinda sweep in and do the whole white savior thing, and that’s absolutely shitty. But there’s been this undercurrent of the conversation that’s refused to acknowledge that has any enduring value. And that definitely isn’t true — at least not for me.

I know I’m a bit late to this particular party. I didn’t see La La Land until last week. I’d been meandering, emotionally, through the past month. A somewhat charged holiday trip back home with family and some odd shocks to my dating life, and topped off with professional listlessness had me feeling aimless. That’s where La La Land came in for me. It’s this glorious cocktail of everything that I needed at once, and regardless of what missteps it makes (that we should continue to point out), it’s important to remember that the soul of media is the effect it has on us. And never have I felt such a clear connection right when I needed it most.

Yes, La La Land Really Is That Good -

I’m clicking into 26 now, but it’s not an age that feels quite right to me. Like seemingly every other millennial, I’ve often felt like I was sold some a fantasy. I grew up pretty poor, raised by a single parent. I spent some nights hungry — through no fault of hers — and some nights lonely as she busted her ass to make sure we could pull through. All the while she did what she could to guide me and teach me. She took me to Chickasaw Tribal Council Meetings. She organized toy and food drives at the Oklahoma Department of Human services and took me with her on Christmas Mornings so we could deliver toys and food to those who had even less than we did, teaching me about the importance of being involved in the community. She continued her own education — while holding down multiple jobs — and encouraged me to learn everything I could. She believed in the American dream, not for her, but for me. I was her moonshot.

And that wears on me. I’m the embodiment of her hope. My choices are in some sense, hers. Every failure, every hit I take wears on me. And it’s exhausting to walk with that. So heavy that I couldn’t bear going back home for years. I’d invested in my life, my goals, and my own dreams and kept coming up short. It felt like if I’d gone back before I was who I felt I needed to be, that I’d coming back defeated.

All the while my failures were stacking. I’d wanted to be a professional writer since I was a child, and while I’d had a lot of work published, I couldn’t find the stability I needed to consistently pay bills. I’d had full-time offers at some stellar publications, but I chose to invest instead in my romances. I was mostly okay with that struggle as it was because my life was still moving. Until, about a year ago, I split with a partner that I had, at one point, every intention of marrying.

Yes, La La Land Really Is That Good -

That hit wasn’t just the loss of the relationship, but the feeling that I’d given up that childhood dream for the sake of the ethereal.

La La Land has answers for these, nudges and little suggestions for what people like myself should, or at least should consider, doing. The story opens with a raucous shotgun blast of cute, digestible songs. Each of these sets the stage for you to be swept up in the magic of a classically-styled musical. The hyper-saturated backgrounds and joyous ballads are otherworldly. And that’s intentional. When we’re motivated and pressing towards goals of ours, the real world starts to blur together in a dreamy backdrop of our imagined triumphs. And that sets the stage for what La La Land does best: subversion.

I’ve never really been a fan of nostalgia in any of its forms, much less the Hollywood fairy tales about being “discovered” and suddenly becoming some big star. I’ve also never seen many of the classics like Casablanca. So the rosy look back at the golden age of movies that La La Land plays with didn’t really nab me. Instead, I got swept up in what it has to say about the way we live out our dreams and seek love in the millennial era.

It’s hard not feel scammed as a millennial. Throughout the 90s and early aughts, we were all told that there’s liberty in education, that a degree and elbow grease was all you needed. But that’s just not true. I worked four jobs while attending school full-time. I was a model student, got two degrees across three majors. I also applied for (quite literally) thousands of jobs. I made dean’s list, graduated with honors, and had countless student organizations and skills listed on my resume. And none of that helped.

Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are two disaffected twenty-somethings struggling with just that. They’re far from the (hilariously wrong) caricature of the lazy, digital-era youth. Mia’s been struggling as a barista for years, despite her wealth of talent as a playwright, an actress, and a singer. Sebastian struggles to keep anything solid not because he can’t hack it, but because his is a world that no longer values his exceptional talent.

When we step into their lives, the pair are on their last legs, but they still have some hope — a hope that the end of their long slog, of their decades of practice and study, might bring them a brighter tomorrow. And in a sense, it does. Mia, by happenstance, hits a few parties with the specific hope of “being discovered.” Instead, she finds, and falls for, Sebastian. And that’s such a natural sequence. In the midst of struggling to stay alive stumbling across someone who, however briefly, brings joy into your life can masquerade as “the one.” I know that because I’ve lived it. My love life has, and still is, an escape.

*spoilers ahead*

Mia and Sebastian aren’t much different. Sebastian doesn’t really have a character other than “I really want to bring jazz back.” We never learn how he got into it, why that’s his dream. He is the rare example of a Manic Pixie Dream Guy, and the story knows it. Everything revolves around Mia, her story and her arc. And in the end, Sebastian isn’t in it. For her, he’s a means to end. He propels her career, but then… that’s it. Mia jets off to Paris to star in the big movies. That’s a sobering, but haunting and poignant arc.

Many people come into our lives, and many will have to leave. That’s the way of it. Sometimes they give you the push (as Sebastian did) to help you move to the next stage of your life. And sometimes you fall in love with someone you spend the rest of your life with. But those people aren’t always the same.

Yes, La La Land Really Is That Good -

When Mia and Sebastian see each other, years later, they’re not angry. They aren’t bitter that they didn’t get married, settle down, and have kids. They smile, share a moment, and part ways — possibly forever.

La La Land isn’t about the magic of LA; it can’t be. LA is a place of pain, of failed dreams and struggle. Throughout the film, we see how much strife comes with trying to make it in show business. It’s not a circle jerk to old school Holywood either. It has call backs, but where those films frame unrealistic dreams as the idea, La La Land is grounded. It’s about wondering what could have been, it’s about letting go of the fairy tale, and about moving on as a changed person.

La La Land healed this wound I’ve had for years, where I’ve mourned the people that stepped into, and then inevitably out of my life. It’s taught me that I can still cherish the time I spent with someone, be grateful for what they brought to me, and still let go. La La Land’s beauty comes from taking a genre so saturated with unrealistic, against-all-odds love stories and adapting it to match the fluid reality of our time. It’s given me some peace, and that’s something.

Yes, La La Land Really Is That Good –


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