The best movies touch every audience member in a different way, but have a clear world picture of what they want to say. La La Land is one of those movies, and I highly recommend you see it (spoilers enclosed) — the film follows the lives of two dreamers – a young actress and jazz musician in Los Angeles who are chasing their dreams. The film starts out with the actress (Emma Stone) working at a coffee shop on a film lot and the jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) getting fired for playing unconventional jazz music he wrote at a restaurant gig after being warned not to by his boss. Then it follows their lives over the next five years through a love story that’s more focused on how hard it is to chase your dreams than it is on the love story itself. In the end everyone gets what they want, well, sort of – at least in terms of their careers.
For anyone who ever chased a dream or is chasing one right now, they can relate to the film in that context – how hard it is to chase a dream, and the hope that maybe some day it will all work out (and the reality that even when it does not everything works out even a fairytale ending is met with the reality that nothing always is perfect, and you always have to sacrifice to reach your dreams.) For those of us who are too afraid to chase our dreams, it gives us hope that maybe it’s not too late – maybe it just requires someone to nudge us along the way, whether that’s a tap-dancing romeo or a voice within. Of course, for every success story of dream following there are a million that never come to fruition.
Los Angeles is the perfect setting for a film like this, because that is where creatives go to follow their dreams. Silicon Valley could be the center of a similar film, but I’m not sure how romantic it would be — Los Angeles, for all of its sprawling mini malls and traffic congestion, is still the city that magnetically attracts those who want to create. Sure, there are many in the city who aren’t creatives at all – there is a thriving tech community there as well. It’s not all La La Land. But it’s a place where dreamers meet other dreamers. And so many people are creating and trying to make it work.
What would my life have been like if I moved to Los Angeles instead of San Francisco 11 years ago? Where would I be today? I imagine I’d still have fallen into marketing, albeit for the entertainment industry. Maybe that would have been a better fit. Who knows, maybe I would still have ended up in technology marketing. My dream to become an actress died a long time ago. But perhaps I could have gotten involved in the film industry as an assistant and worked my way up. Maybe I’d take classes in film and make friends who let me “work” for free for a while until I proved myself. Or maybe it would have been too hard and I would have moved back home to the East Coast, giving up on any dream and stuck. Who knows.
Los Angeles is only a five-hour drive from San Francisco, but it’s a world away in thought and culture. I visit on occasion to see a few good friends down there, and I always enjoy seeing them and also just breathing in LA. It doesn’t feel very me at all, yet it is a world of possibility. A world of opportunity to create and tell stories and be part of this industry that I’ve always wanted to be a part of but was too scared to try. And, that industry is not romantic when you get inside its doors by any means – pay is low unless you really make it, and you can work many years at practically minimum wage or just above it with no health benefits just hoping that one day someone will give you a chance. Like any other industry, that day comes eventually if you’re good enough and have a solid work ethic and people generally like to be around you. This is not for acting roles or anything, but many of the jobs in Hollywood required to make productions behind the scenes are like any other job. Or are they? Is there something that would make me love going to work every day knowing that my job was to be part of creating a story that could potentially move people? That can pull people out of their everyday challenges and take them away, providing an opportunity to think differently about their world views, or to simply laugh on a bad day.
The movie hasn’t quite inspired me to move to LA, but it reminded me of that person I was when I first moved out to California over 10 years ago. As I age, I do have some regrets, though in those regrets there are sacrifices of dreams that have instead given me an incredible husband and a life I could have never imagined. La La Land seems to imply that you get one or the other – you get to chase your dreams or you get to chase epic love, but these are mutually exclusive. Pick one or the other. You may get a little of one or the other en route to success in one path, but both can’t survive in tandem.
In that sense, I could have broken up with my now husband six years ago when I knew my job life wasn’t working and moved somewhere new. I could have started over in my 20s because that’s the luxury one’s 20s afford and I could have just tried to make it work – in LA, NY or some international city known for its creative population. I even for a brief moment worked with a well-known Hollywood creative on a project from a tech company as well as a few members from his team that, had I not been so incredibly awkward perhaps I could have swung an internship or opportunity through and left my world with a huge leap and not looked back. But I didn’t. And, in return I got my husband, who I wouldn’t give up for the world, and I got a career that pays well but that is completely and utterly not the right thing for me. It’s not just the wrong career, it’s the wrong city. It’s too expensive to have time to be creative. Maybe once upon a time San Francisco was also a city of dreamers, but not any more. Well, we’re a city of dreamers of fixing problems and maybe striking gold on our stock options or getting rewarded for working 80 hours a week so we can afford the down payment on a $1.5M starter home – one day. That seems to be the dream here, once you’re through your 20s of going out in SF (which I never experienced since I selected to live in the suburbs) and bar hopping and mingling and Tindering from man to man and such. I guess SF is a good place for your 20s, and maybe it was for mine… but did I dream too small? Did I ruin my whole life because I was too afraid to take a bigger leap?
“Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make. She captured feeling, sky with no ceiling, the sunset inside with rain. Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.”
Maybe, despite my epic mess, I haven’t made a big enough one yet. Maybe I’m too risk averse. Maybe I was too scared to be foolish because my parents taught me the worst thing in life you could be is a fool. But look at me now. Am I not a fool?