Career is king in “La La Land”

I love the classic movie musicals, so I was interested when critics claimed “La La Land” was a throwback to that golden age. But after viewing it, LLL resembles a millennial version of “All About Eve” more than an homage to “Singin’ in the Rain.”

If you haven’t seen either film, you may want to do so before reading on as this post is full of spoilers.

LLL, like “Eve,” had a record 14 Academy Award nominations and won six, with Best Picture to “Eve.” Both films were written and directed by one man.

The theme in both movies is chasing success at all costs, and was the winning worth it.

“Eve” tells of a young actress who resorts to flattery, deception, lies and blackmail to gain stardom. She gains the dream she wanted, but in doing so loses her friends. She ends up lonely, unhappy and tired. The trophy she longed for is carelessly left in a taxi, having lost its appeal.

LLL is about Mia, young actress and Sebastian, a musician, who ruin what could be a heavenly relationship in pursuit of their dreams. The film is labeled as a “romance,” but the characters are in love with their dreams, not each other.

LLL is much like the city of Los Angeles itself—full of flash and glitter on the surface but superficial underneath, with no heart.

Halfway through LLL I realized I didn’t like or care about Mia or Seb. They have no personality. We know little about them except for their singled-minded fixation on making it big in the industry. Frankly, they act like jerks.

The film is an ode to the selfie generation. LLL opens with drivers stuck in freeway gridlock getting out of their cars and dancing. What a nice way to release the tension! But when the traffic moves, the drivers pile back into their cars (they can’t use mass transit?) and to their own radio music and bubble, no longer part of a community.

Romances have the “meet cute” moment, but here it’s a “meet ugly.” Mia uses the traffic jam time to read lines for an audition. She’s so absorbed in herself she doesn’t pay attention to the other cars. Seb, parked behind her, grows impatient. He speeds around and blares his horn. Mia responds with a finger, even though she’s the one blocking traffic. Nothing says true love like a rude gesture.

Digression: how does a struggling actress buy a Prius and an out-of-work musician afford a cool convertible? I also want to point out that when Mia and Seb watch the film shot on the movie lot, they are standing far too close. In real life, sawhorses would be placed several yards away to keep out the looky-loos.

Mia’s an actress but we never see her act except in some film auditions. Her crying scene and the audition song moved me, but the bland nurse-and-cop roles she read were cardboard characters. Even in her big one-woman show we never see her talent, just her going onstage and off. Is she really good or just a wannabe with stars in her eyes?

If Mia wants to act, why doesn’t she act? L.A. has dozens of small theaters where actors ply their craft. The pay is minimal, but it’s great experience and exposure. But Mia can’t play with others. She must be the only star in the sky, so she produces a one-woman show. In real life, a show by an unknown would play at a 99-seat theater, not a huge venue like the Rialto (a real theater in South Pasadena). But Mia is too full of herself to realize she can’t fill seats by herself.

Even in her big movie audition, she isn’t reading lines with other actor but doing a monologue, because it’s all about her!

Sebastian is no better. He’s appalled that Mia doesn’t share his love for jazz. Instead of sharing in her interests, she must conform to his. He immediately takes her to a jazz club where he talks over the band playing instead of letting Mia listen to the music. He doesn’t love jazz but rather his superior knowledge of the genre.

Seb takes a piano gig at a club where the manager tells him to play only Christmas music for the patrons. Seb argues that he doesn’t want to do the set list. Then why did he take the job? If someone hires you to play Santa, you don’t show up in a Dracula cape.

Seb grudging obliges but eventually sneaks in his own song. When the manager fires him, Seb argues again. Then Seb storms off in a huff because he wasn’t allowed to do what HE wanted instead of doing what he was paid to do.

On his way out of the club, he bumps into Mia, who’s entranced by his music. In a classic musical, he’d stop and apologize. But Seb is so focused on his feelings and nobody else that he just storms off.

The two meet again at a pool party where an unhappy Seb is performing with an ‘80s cover band. Why doesn’t he get a job in another field if he’s too much of a “purist” to play the music other people like?

After the party, Mia and Seb have a lovely dance together when her cell rings. Does she let it go to voice mail? No, she takes the call. The person on the line is more important than her dancing partner.

Mia moves in with Seb, but this arrangement seemed more like two tenants sharing a space than lovers. I never felt any chemistry between them.

Seb then takes a high-paying gig with a fusion jazz band, grumbling all the way to the bank. When he asks Mia to join him on tour, she claims she must stay behind to work on her one-woman show. She can’t postpone her show by a few weeks?

If they want to build their relationship, why not write a show together—she the story/dialogue and he the music? But then they’d have to share spotlight. They don’t know how to listen, compromise or be empathetic.

Regarding the band tour, Mia berates Seb for not following his dream. Yet when her one-woman show bombs, she runs straight from the stage door to her parents’ house, swearing that she’s finished with acting. She doesn’t follow her own advice? And who wants to root for a protagonist who gives up?

Seb is so unprofessional he “forgets” about a band photo shoot scheduled the same night as Mia’s play—and he doesn’t bother to call or text her. Can’t he set up reminders on his cell—or tell Mia ahead of time of his commitments?

Then again, Mia “forgets” about a dinner double date she had scheduled when she agrees to go to a film screening with Seb. She couldn’t cancel the date or at least call/text Seb? People in L.A. are always cancelling events at the last minute. But the dinner was true to life, at least the ones’ I’ve attended: the others gab about something superficial while ignoring Mia.

Mia finally makes it and goes to Paris to shoot a movie. The next scene is “five years later.” She’s married to another man and has a child. Whoa! What happened? She and Seb never called, texted or wrote each other in five years? Who is this husband? We learn nothing about him. How did she connect with him? Does Mia really love him?

Seb’s ego shows up again when he’s introducing his jazz club. Instead of playing with the musicians on stage, they stand aside as he performs a piano solo. Dude, jazz is a collaborative art.

The closing dance number is copied straight from the 17-minute ballet sequence that concluded “An American in Paris.” But unlike that movie, the hero doesn’t get the girl. Mia sees Seb at his club and leaves with her husband. No classic “guy gets gal” ending. But this being L.A., she might divorce her hubby for him or just keep Seb on the side as a secret lover.

Even if Mia and Seb were together, would they be happy? Would they be willing to scale back their dreams to have a family? Or could they bicker as they did before? Who knows? Who cares?

You may think I’m being too hard on the film, except that a friend told me he knows people just like Mia and Seb—their career is number one and nobody else is number two. LLL is a cautionary tale that achieving one’s dreams may still leave one unfulfilled. If you stake your entire self-worth on your career, who are you when the gigs stop coming?

 

 

 

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