Warning: See Title. Do I even need a spoiler alert?
Very rarely will I see a movie three times while it is still in theaters. It is also rare that I will play the soundtrack of that same movie with Hamilton-level frequency, and rarer still when that movie has record-tying Oscar nominations. And yet here we are and that movie is LaLaLand. Aside from being clever, original, and a fun watch, LaLaLand demonstrates a belief I have long held: that music is a tangible form of magic. A world where music and dancing can appear spontaneously in life is just another day in my brain.
Clearly the movie has hit some kind of nerve, not just in my world but in our national psyche. And yet, there is a segment of the population who left the theater disappointed and let down. A repeated motif in conversations with these people is the matter of the ending. The pleasant parting of ways, wistful dancing montage of what might have been, and a long last look across a crowded Jazz club, leaving Ryan Gosling alone on stage seems to have hit a sour chord. I’ve heard repeatedly:
“The ending was so sad!”
“She married the wrong guy!”
“They had a beautiful story, but they didn’t end up together!”
I would offer an adjustment on that last complaint. They had a beautiful story AND they didn’t end up together. That simple twist is what adds potency to the musical’s otherwise idealized world. Part of the movie’s beauty is its validating depiction of a love story that does not end up at the altar and still deserves to be told.
From the time we are little we expect love stories to end either with a wedding or with an implied wedding. This conditioning stays around when we grow up and navigate the world of relationships. When a relationship ends, or a “might-be” turns into a “not-to-be”, suddenly all of the beauty and the story and the possibility seems to be invalid. Once-treasured relics of the relationship, are now tinged with regret; null and void because it didn’t work out.
One of my favorite moments of the movie, and actually the movement that made me cry, was just before they go their separate ways when she says “I’m always going to love you.” LaLaLand rejects the premise that a story and memories and magical moments should be thrown out simply because it doesn’t end at the altar. I find this message particularly comforting and even empowering as someone who at the age of 31 has had a life full of meaning and memories, none of which have ended in marriage so far. Perhaps that’s why the ending of this movie, while not expected, resonated with me so much. A movie like LaLaLand give me and others like me permission to find the beauty in my current life, relationships, dreams and adventures. Regardless of when and how and with whom marriage enters the picture.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good happily-ever-after story, and haven’t given up on my own one day, but I also love a good story that values, honors, and affirms all of the other stories that can be told just as beautifully.