[Warning: The following story contains spoilers from La La Land.]
La La Land has sung and danced its way to awards-season success and is up for 14 Oscars, tying Titanic and All About Eve as films with the most Academy Award nominations.
But those who've seen the Lionsgate film might be disappointed by its bittersweet ending.
The film centers on aspiring musician, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), looking to open his own jazz club, and struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone). Both have big dreams but are struggling to make it in Hollywood.
Over a song-and-dance-filled two hours, Sebastian and Mia meet and fall in love. While they fight and reconcile, ultimately they don't end up together.
At the end of the film, Sebastian is able to own his own jazz club, while Mia lands a starring role in a Paris-filmed project that jump starts her acting career. While making their dreams come true, both Mia and Sebastian go their separate ways and never rekindle the romance they shared. When Mia returns to L.A., now married to someone else, she comes across Seb’s (Sebastian’s jazz club). Stopping in for a minute, Mia smiles at Sebastian while contemplating what their life together could have been like. Viewers watch the fantasy montage unfold onscreen. But back at the club, Mia leaves, sharing one last look with Sebastian on her way out.
The film ends with Sebastian and Mia as two individuals who fell in love, but their pursuit of their careers takes precedence over any effort to try to maintain their relationship.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, producer Fred Berger says the plan was always for the two leads to go their separate ways, something he saw as a more realistic outcome.
“[Fellow producer] Jordan [Horowitz], [director] Damien [Chazelle] and myself made a pact that under no circumstances will [Emma and Ryan's characters] end up together in the end," says Berger. "He will always play jazz and not a more acceptable form of music; she will always be an actress, this will always be a love letter to L.A. — we're not relocating to Paris.”
Their refusal to stray from their vision wasn’t to rebel against the Hollywood fairy tale blueprint, but a way to provide a story that could be more realistic. Berger adds, “We felt confident, but the things that people were pressuring us to change were the things that would make it connect and feel original and new. What we were very open to was calibrating it in a way that felt honest.”
Similarly, Chazelle wanted to create a film that viewers could resonate with and realize that the Hollywood fairy tale that they believe in isn’t necessarily authentic.
“A lot of things can happen after ‘happily ever after.’ But when you have two people who share a memory, there is something very pure and nothing can taint that memory,” Chazelle tells THR. “The idea was to take the old musical, but ground it in real life where things don’t always exactly work out.“
Stone and Gosling also played a strong role in ensuring that their characters were portrayed in a way that they felt was right.
It was Gosling’s idea to have Sebastian want more than just to become a successful jazz musician but rather own his own club. Meanwhile, Stone proposed that her character would create Sebastian’s "Seb’s" club sign, Berger says. While they don’t end up together in the end, they create a foundation for a loving relationship built on support and trust. Even though they aren’t romantically involved in the end, they continue to hold great admiration and respect for each other as they mature into the worlds they worked so hard to break into; something that could be regarded as a “real-life” relationship.
Berger says, “That's what the ending is about: They'll always have each other, they needed each other to get to this place, they're better off for having known each other, and that to me is something that's really satisfying.”
Speaking at a Screen Actors Guild-AFTRA Foundation panel, Stone agreed that the ending seems to reflect that both Mia and Sebastian remain important figures in each others lives.
“I don’t know that they necessarily couldn’t have ended up together," she added. "I think these two characters help inspire each other’s dreams and the way that that unfolds means that they can’t end up together but that their love isn’t any less important. I was talking to somebody the other night and he said that ‘What I really love about this story is that in the end, even though she’s happily married and has a baby, that this movie celebrates those loves that came before and that they’re just as important as the love you have now.’ It’s about how important each person is in your journey in wherever you’re going.”