Spoilers for “La La Land” follow. Just a heads up.
This Valentine’s Day, most people are going to turn to the cheesy rom-coms of the 80’s, the erotic romantic thrillers of the early 2000’s, or the modern young adult adaptations on Netflix and other streaming services.
Most of these films/series are perfectly serviceable, delivering a (no pun intended) romanticized, idealistic, and pitch-perfect version of what love “should” be, and give young people across the world models of relationships to aim for.
If you’re one like me, however, who wants to see something not as idealized, not as romanticized, more realistic in terms of its portrayal of love while also being a terrific film in and of its own, then look no further than “La La Land.”
The 2016 near Best Picture winner stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as Sebastian and Mia respectively, as both struggle to make a name for themselves (Seb as a jazz pianist and Mia as an actress) while simultaneously falling in love.
The eventual question that comes by the end of the film lies at the center of the idea of a “realistic” relationship: would you sacrifice something/someone you love, for your chance to chase your dreams?
This deep and thoughtful question is presented in a beautiful, colorful, and bombastic way, as musical number after musical number dazzles with its vibrant and complex cinematography, expertly choreographed and musically masterful performances, and some of the smartest uses of music I have ever seen in a musical.
This central question of career over love comes to fruition in the third act, as Mia decides to take a chance and follow her dreams, while Sebastian pursues his jazz dreams and opens up his own jazz nightclub. In the film’s heartbreaking epilogue, we see that the two former lovers have now moved on from each other, and achieved those dreams that seemed so far-fetched oh so long ago.
The two meet again in Seb’s nightclub, and as the two make eye contact after so many years, a sweeping dream sequence of what could have been if the two of them had stayed together brings about the sad reality that they just were not meant to be together, yet there is a shared sense of love in the final nod and smile that they share.
“La La Land” is so many things. It is popcorn entertainment, divine cinema at its finest, and a beautiful meditation on the reality of love and chasing one’s dream. If you’re looking for a more thoughtful, meditative approach to love this Valentine’s Day, then allow yourself to be swept away to the City of Stars.