La La Land: “This year’s other best picture nominees have heart, soul and humanity. Damien Chazelle’s tawdry, dispiriting confection has none – it’s the tale of two narcissists who sacrifice love for self-interest”.
On the advice of someone whose taste and opinions I trust, I decided to break my personal non-cinema-going record (hadn’t been to a cinema since June 2009) and fly to Berlin just to see a midday showing of La La Land. Let’s forget the impracticality of my impulsive leap; let’s forget the fact that, despite my multiple confirmations of getting the original-language version, the film was dubbed into German. Let’s just consider the fact that I still felt deeply saddened by the film, even if I could not understand every word that was said. (I later saw it in English to pick up the nuances and bits I’d missed.)
My trusted source, who had recommended it, felt that it was uplifting, if I may paraphrase his post-viewing thoughts, because the couple (spoiler alert), despite not ending up together in the long run, inspired each other to do great things, to follow their dreams.
As the aforementioned Guardian review points out: “They get together when their careers are failing, and spend their time sharing notes. Once they have co-mentored themselves on to the road to personal advancement, they ditch each other like a rocket’s blast-off section.”
I can see and support this interpretation logically, without putting such a negative spin on it (it is a film, meant to be entertaining in some way, after all). The ‘support’ and ‘seeing talent and beauty in each other and encouraging it’ angle is only one edge of the sword; the other is that both characters were using each other, as the Guardian suggests.
Going by how I felt after seeing it without being able to understand everything being said, I knew that my feelings were not admiring the ‘mutual support’ and the characters being who they needed to be for each other until they made it or didn’t need each other any more. At least it was not the complete feeling. I cried, felt moved, but could not pinpoint exactly what made it so deeply sad for me. I did, after all, share many of the same complaints about the film’s many shortcomings (bad singing, a lacklustre chemistry, the co-opting and simplifying of jazz as a musical genre, and blah blah blah) that the article highlights but still was able to overlook them for the sake of finding some greater meaning.
“Greater meaning”, though, all filters through the prism of your own state of mind and emotional being at the time of viewing and later reflection. Thus I was able to wring mammoth amounts of emotion from even my dubbed German viewing, but this may only be because of my own topsy-turvy emotional state at the time.
It is only now, reading this review, that I see reflected in words what I was unable to articulate: these two people (potentially ‘narcissists’, according to the article) sacrificed love for self-interest. Again, setting aside the fact that I did not necessarily find their “love” all that believable or compelling, it still ended up disposable and was easily cast aside to pursue other things.
“We can now see why these sweethearts separate. On their last night together they pledge eternal love; but they also promise to follow their dreams. For them, the latter was bound to trump the former: self-worship brooks no distractions. If, at the end, Seb seems a little lonely and Mia seems a little bored, no matter. Their final smiles indicate that both have attained what really matters: self-satisfaction.
Still, La La Land is a film for our time. With our self-nurturing, self-promotion, clicktivism, Twitterstorms, sexts and selfies, we are all narcissists now.”
And you know, that is not entirely unrealistic. Do we not meet people when things in our lives are falling apart, less than ideal, and make pledges of undying love and then somehow rebuild around them but then run far and fast as we ‘follow our dreams’?
Unfortunate Coincidence (Dorothy Parker)
By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.
It happens every day, and sometimes for very good reason (I even applauded the ‘leaving a relationship, forgoing love for personal goals’ move heartily in my previous post on the women of the mostly crap TV show, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce). I don’t want or need every movie (or any movie, really) to have a standard Hollywood ending wherein the couple ends up together. But when I saw the film, I needed to see (and believe) that love could be strong enough to win and could be stronger than circumstance or even self-interest.