“LaLa Land” was the third of three movies that my wife and I saw earlier this year on our February vacation in Alameda, California. I’ve already written about “Fences” and “Hidden Figures”, two extremely good films that really resonated with me and my wife although they were both about black lives in America.
I thought that “LaLa Land” would be right up my alley since reviewers indicated that it was kind of a throwback to the great Astaire/Rogers films that I have always loved so much. I have to say that the film turned out to be a big disappointment. It was not just that the songs and dances did not measure up. How could they in this day and age? I dare anyone to remember more than the first three words of “City of Stars,” the song that won the Oscar for best song.
The biggest disappointment had to do with dreams. “LaLa Land” could have been titled “Dreamland.” Both the main characters, played so well by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, were driven to fulfill their dreams, or to, as the saying goes, “live their dream.” He wanted to own and operate a jazz nightclub where he could exhibit his great talent as a Jazz piano virtuoso. Her dream was to be a great actress playing leading roles in significant films.
The first 90 percent of the film developed the love story between these two appealing figures, but then, for some inexplicable reason, it was decided that they must break up in order to fulfill their dreams. It was a sad ending that disappointed moviegoers everywhere.
Five years after the breakup she is a movie star and happily married with a loving husband and adorable child. Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend has opened his club and it is a huge success. By chance, she and her husband walk into the club one night and she hears her old boyfriend playing the piano. Then, we are treated to an extended dream sequence where she imagines what might have happened if they had not broken up. But it is only a dream, and she and her husband leave after only one number.
What a downer. In the old days the ending would certainly have been altered after previews discovered a negative reaction to the ending among sample audiences. But not today when directors and so-called creative artists would lose their Hollywood cachet if they came up with a happy ending.
Perhaps it’s because I’m from a much older generation that I object to the decision of the two lovers to give up each other in pursuit of their dreams. I don’t recall that as a young man I had any dreams or ambitions that I would not give up if the right young woman came along. When she did come along, we had a fine romance that has lasted to the present day.
I guess we were lucky but it is also true that our backgrounds and traditions kept our feet on the ground. Sitting in that theater I wanted to urge the young couple to give up their dreams for the one they loved. In my case I found that anything I gave up was worth nothing in comparison to what I gained. We were not the only ones in our generation to choose real life over dreams.
Coincidentally, I’ve just read the wartime diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a young writer who was also the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. They were a dream couple in their own time. She came from a wealthy and accomplished family, and he was the great American hero because of his groundbreaking flight across the Atlantic in 1927.
But by the outbreak of World War II things had gone sour. Even after they had recovered from the murder of their first born son by a kidnapper, Lindbergh had become a figure of controversy because of his leadership in the movement to keep America out of the war. He lost his commission in the army and President Roosevelt and his supporters came close to branding him a traitor.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Lindbergh, despite his age and growing family, offered his services to the war effort but he never regained his pre-war popularity. His wife stood by her husband during these years despite the fact that practically all of their friends had deserted them. They were still well off but she had never dreamed that she would be a lonely housewife struggling to find herself. She talked of her dreams in her diary entry of April 8, 1942. (In her diary “C” is her husband, Charles.
Almost every young person is a Romantic Idealist. Certainly I was—and am still—in a sense. There has always been a “dream figure” in my life—not always a person of course. But some people learn to accept life and that it is better than “the dream.” At least I got married and had children.
I told C., speaking of this conversation (we were talking of idealizing people), and C. said, “You can’t meet your heroes if you feel that way about them.” And I said, “Well I don’t know—I didn’t lose my dream by marrying it!” He said, “that’s the nicest thing you ever said to me.”
But I said it the wrong way round really. For I didn’t marry my “dream.” C. wasn’t my “dream.” I never idealized him before I met him. It wasn’t the hero I loved in him. It was the man—the man who has never disappointed me. I had my “dreams,” too, very different from C. That was what all the struggle was about, giving up my “dreams’ for this flesh-and-blood man—who I loved, God knew.
I sometimes feel it is the one thing I deserve credit for, the one thing I am intensely proud of, that I had the courage and the wisdom to give up my “dreams” for real life, to realize that “life” was better than “dreams” and that C. was life. *
|Anne Morrow Lindbergh|
*Anne Morrow Lindbergh: War Within and Without, Diaries and Letters, 1939-1942. NY, 1980.