Barry Jenkins, the director of “Moonlight’’ recently said in an interview with Esquire,
“I think there's a very superficial read of La La Land that does injustice to what Damien's doing in the film, and it's convenient because these are tough times to make a superficial read of that film. But it's like, no, this is America. This is what this shit is. You gain something; you sacrifice something else in the gaining of that thing. I mean, that's dark stuff.”
Jenkins was right. And I was wrong in my review of “La La Land” over a month ago. And so, for the first time on Op-Rob I will be revisiting a film. But not purely because of Jenkins’ sage statement.
One of the things I love about movies, and what keeps me coming back to them, is how they can transform along with you. By that I mean you have new experiences, live a bit more of life, and a movie’s meaning can change. On my first viewing of “La La Land” there was an overwhelming sense of frustration and disappointment. In the film, Mia and Sebastian take this wonderful musical journey and fall in love while chasing their dreams. But in the end, they don’t end up together. It doesn’t work out. As a viewer, and as a person, I felt like there was something left on the table. Why wouldn’t Mia and Sebastian stay together? Isn’t that how life is supposed to happen?
The answer, unfortunately, is no. There are several subtle reminders throughout the film that point to the reality that these two people are at crossroads that do not lead to the same place. For example, Mia is in a far more fresh stage of her acting career, while Sebastian is near the end of his rope as a struggling musician. One individual is prepared to take the route of idealism, while the other is more inclined to compromise. This dynamic plays out when Sebastian sells out classic jazz to take a position in an alt-jazz band, while Mia cannot come to accept the practicality of the decision. Mia continues on her path of idealism apart from Sebastian, and it culminates in astounding success when she lands the film role of a lifetime. Meanwhile, it is implied that Sebastian parlays his alt-jazz success into achieving his own dream of owning a classic jazz club. In a superficial viewing, these discrepancies are ignored or perhaps missed because of the incredible pace and style of the film. Director Damien Chazelle’s subtle message can easily be lost in the fantastic visual and musical narrative.
This brings me back to Barry Jenkins’ comments about “La La Land”. He perceptively points out that anyone viewing the film as a light, happy musical is mistaken. Or perhaps that people watching “La La Land” for uplift will be disappointed, like I was. The overarching message of the film is rather that life doesn’t work out like a Hollywood script. Yes, there can be moments of idealism and triumph, but in the end life is full of reevaluations and compromise: often at the expense of people that we love. In the words of Jenkins, “that’s dark stuff”. In my previous review I summed up “La La Land’s” message as nothing more than a half-hearted “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need”. Upon revisiting the film, the meaning is far more heavy and vital to everyday life than I could have realized at the time. “La La Land”, does not just offer a visually stunning story and beautifully scored music. It bears a subtle, sobering and crushingly true message about life. "La La Land" is not a starter. It's a legend.