La La Land—last week spur of the moment with a couple friends I saw Hollywood’s newest musical film starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. We laughed and then cried. From a filmmaker’s standpoint, La La Land sports phenomenal art direction, acting, color, costume, and choreography design in my opinion. It’s 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.9/10 on IMDb seems to agree. Minus a couple modern themes (such as sleeping together before marriage) and a couple costume choices that I didn’t appreciate or agree with, this film tells a direct yet aesthetic story of the struggle artists have when their dreams and relationships (or lack of) conflict. Certainly a film that my friends and I, embarking into that same setting, can relate to.
As a close screenwriting friend said while discussing it, “It was a great movie, but I didn’t like it.”
“I don’t think it’s that you hate the story,” I refuted. “I think you know it’s a beautifully made story that holds a very painful, close-to-home truth—and that’s why you don’t like it. Kind of like Dead Poet’s Society.”
She nodded. “Okay, I’ll give you that.”
The Catholic News Service stabs at a summary of the film:
In the city where dreams are manufactured, two star-crossed lovers meet: Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist. Each is driven toward a singular goal. Mia wants to be a movie star, while Sebastian hopes to open his own club.
Their gooey romance bubbles over into a series of numbers worthy of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. In this context, the corny dialogue is utterly appropriate, even charming:
“It’s pretty strange that we keep running into each other,” Mia tells Sebastian.
“Maybe it means something,” he replies.
Needless to say, the path to success is rocky, and perseverance is sorely tested. Mia suffers one humiliating audition after another. Sebastian, broke, joins a rock band led by his newfound friend Keith (John Legend), and heads out on the road, sacrificing his craft for a paycheck.
Separation frays the relationship, and conflict ensues. As the music swells and Mia warbles tunes like “The Fools Who Dream,” the power of love to conquer all seems momentarily in doubt.
The hard part of the ending for me was that Mia broke Sebastian’s heart—and in some ways his dream. Even though he had Seb’s, he didn’t have it because he did it all for her while she moved on. Eventually, he will move on, too, but in that moment on the piano bench when Sebastian sees Mia there is a sense of pathos for what might have been if they had both moved forward together.
As a Catholic artist, I would like to probe further. Is it better to leave someone behind to follow your dreams and then wait forever until you meet someone again? Or, instead of cohabiting and breaking up, would it be better—regardless of your dreams—to marry someone in an appropriate near future if you meet a good person you truly love? And worry about how your dreams fit into your new life afterward.
I think about that often as a twenty-something in a world of young adults each poised on the brink of personal discovery and pursuit. There are a million and one other questions that evolve along with this moment, but this story points to one in particular. What is better? Waiting, very potentially sacrificing a deep relationship, until you have made it in the art industry?
Or is it better to put another person first, make a commitment, and then dream each other’s dreams—the heartaches, the messes made, the victories, the family life…together.
The more I think about it, the more I am not so sure that two people really need to give up their dreams to have a happy relationship in art. Perhaps—like any piece of art in film, music, painting, stage—we need to weave our dreams together and follow where they take us in the stars.