Romance stories have existed since the beginning from classic Greek tales of Hades and Persephone to popular works of Jane Austen, whose Pride and Prejudice novel has sold more than 20 million copies. Confessions of budding feelings, sneaky ways of flirting or the grand declarations of ‘I’ll die without you by my side’ never fail to have us sigh in content and wish for our fairytale ending. There’s nothing like a mushy love story as a pick me up to a stressful day.
However, there are some romance media subverting the common love tropes especially the expectation of a happily ever after. Six Academy Award movie musical La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, shows such rebellion by questioning if passionate love can really conquer the world. Choosing the glittering and idealized Hollywood as the backdrop to their romance gives that extra starry-eyed feel to the pursuit of their dreams.
The real hustle
The movie follows the struggle of Mia and Sebastian to break through in their respective fields. Mia (Emma Stone) attends countless auditions while working in a café by Warner Brothers studios and sharing an apartment with other aspiring actresses. On the other hand, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) wants to have his own jazz club that will only play the purest form of his beloved musical genre – cringing on any attempt to modernize the sound. When they found each other, their failings and never-ending hustle don’t seem so bad in their bubble of comfort and support.
Unfortunately, life gets in the way when their individual careers start to take off and challenges on distance and time reveal itself. Their problems can’t be easily fixed by calling a professional, as compared to the ease of getting an HVAC technician from Utah to deal with pesky air conditioning. This is when the need to compromise is highlighted. But it’s an easy thing to say and hard to do. Sebastian faced this dilemma when his band photo shoot coincided with Mia’s one-woman play. If you were in his shoes, would you choose career or love?
Deciding for yourself
As kids, we’ve been spoiled by the happy ever after of most stories. But in reality, there is no narrator that will affirm decisions and paths to be the right course of action. If you’re lucky, hindsight can give you an answer but sometimes the question remains open-ended. Mia and Sebastian chose actions they felt can help them get closer to their goals. Sadly, their love story was sacrificed in order to be successful at their crafts. The montage showing what could have happened if they chose each other instead was bittersweet and had audiences groan at the lost love.
The findings of associate professor Jennifer Petriglieri about work-life balance between power couples dash people’s hope that Mia and Sebastian could have worked together to keep both love and career. Petriglieri’s book Couples That Work: How Dual-Career Couples Can Thrive in Love and Work explores how career transitions and relationship milestones affect each other. There will always be trade-offs in a relationship, and it is up to the couple to talk about their boundaries and adjustments. For Mia and Sebastian, their career trajectories put them outside of the trade-offs they’re willing to do.
La La Land is a refreshing take from all of the romantic comedies out in the market. The movie doesn’t shy away from discussions on how much work a relationship needs in order to survive challenges. Audiences are left with questions on compromise, passion, and following your dreams, which they might have to answer in the future.