Living in La La Land

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I used to go see movies on the Friday night they would open. Back then, my wife and I usually watched a few movies a week, sometimes even more. That was when we were DINKS (double-income-no-kids). Now I jokingly say we’re no-income-three-kids. With the lack of time and money and babysitters, going to see any kind of movie in the theater is a rarity. I think I’ve maybe seen three films in the theater in the last three months, and that’s a lot by our standards.

So when I kept hearing about La La Land with the amazing Emma Stone and my favorite current actor, Ryan Gosling, I was intrigued. Then I heard it was about two struggling artists trying to make it. So I deliberately avoided the film. (yes, spoilers ahead, folks)

The last thing I wanted to see on the big screen was a two-hour reminder of what the last decade has been like for me.

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The dream to write started for me when I was in . . . Wait a minute. You don’t really care about the dreams I had when I was in third grade, do you? If you’re one of the few people that actually do care, you’ve probably heard me tell that story a thousand times.

The truth is every single person ever born has had some kind a dream in their life and it could be a big one or a small one. It could be a simple one. But everybody has dreams, then month-by-month and year-by-year life chips away at them until the grand totem pole once standing now looks like a toothpick.

Being an adult–growing up–becoming wise–all of those things can be a series of little-by-little losing that dream and coming back to reality–coming back to your senses–coming back to the fact that life is hard and you’ll struggle and you’re not going to win that golden ticket to the chocolate factory.

So when you see a film about dreamers, they move you and they remind you and sometimes they fill you with regret and other times they fill you with possibility. But usually it’s only for a couple hours. Then you leave that sanctuary of darkness and you go back out into the light where real life and real problems wait for you. Those dreams are left back in your movie seat.

For some reason, however, I’ve always had those dreams alongside of me like my shadow. It’s easy to put this into a category of persistence & perseverance but I think I’ve carried those dreams because they were the only things I knew would remain by my side during a youth spent moving every other year.

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The world doesn’t need another movie reviewer. Just like it doesn’t need another author or musician or actor or artist. Yet we can’t help ourselves, can we? This isn’t a review of La La Land but rather a summary how much it moved me and why. Perhaps I’m writing this more for myself than anybody else. To be honest, that’s the history of my writing career, for better or worse.

I can see why Hollywood fell in love with La La Land. How can you not be in love with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and a movie like this? The film is really a love letter to not only Hollywood but to any artist struggling and believing and hoping in this world. Everything is so well done.

Anybody can love and appreciate the film, but I do think there’s only a handful who really and truly know what this world is like. So many can know the struggles of failing time and time again. The difference is most people start out trying to find success in order to build a career and make money and have a stable life. Being an artist doesn’t begin with the desire to make money or build your brand or have a business. Yet you have to do all those things if you’re going to be a grown-up in that world.

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There’s an interesting question to ponder when you leave the film. How do you define success? Is it achieving your dreams, because it’s almost impossible to achieve any dream without sacrificing something else. In this case the hero and heroine live happily ever after but not with each other. I’ve seen lots of people saying they hate this ending, but it worked for me. It’s real. Plus—don’t most great love stories in film or literature end this way?

I think about the juxtaposition a lot, about achieving my dream of writing full-time and yet never having it on my own terms. There have been many times when I thought I would do anything other than writing simply to be able to have some financial stability.

Living the dream. Finding your dream. What’s that really, truly mean?

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People can understand those awful auditions Emma Stone’s character has to go through, but artists will truly feel the pain of that opening night when the lights go on and there’s eight people in the audience or Ryan Gosling dressed in 80’s attire playing a key tar in a really horrible cover band.

I can’t fully express how much I can relate when Gosling’s character ends up signing on the dotted line and doing something that he is still able to do but doesn’t love to do. Something he once swore he’d never do. Their argument at the dinner table–I’ve lived that argument quite a few times. It felt a little too real, especially after the, uh, conversation I had just had in the car with my wife on the way to see the movie.

Dreams aren’t bad—they’re wonderful and glorious–but sometimes reality just simply won’t allow them to happen and that’s life. Other times, many times, you find yourself letting go of certain things (pride for one) in order for them to happen in some small way.

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They set it all up so well when Emma Stone finally has a call back to audition for a big film.

She starts talking about her aunt and then she begins to sing this incredible song about dreamers. I couldn’t simply dot the tears away but rather had to keep my fingers positioned in order to keep them from running.

I loved the chorus of the song.

“Here’s to the ones who dream”

Affirmation to everybody who has ever taken a breath in this broken world.

“Foolish as they may seem”

Confirmation that we’re not alone in our insanity.

“Here’s to the hearts that ache”

A summary of the story of every artist striving and believing and getting crushed along the way.

“Here’s to the mess we make”

This final lyric was perhaps the most meaningful one. The mess we make. I’ve thought this for all my life, seeing myself make messes that somehow get put into story form and then into book form. I’ve seen the last decade in many ways as a mess.

The song and the film is a celebration of the mess our dreams can make.

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The honest truth: I was getting ready this morning and playing Gosling’s first rendition of “City of Stars” on my iPhone. And he sings this lyric:

“Is this the start of something wonderful and new

Or one more dream that I cannot make true?”

Right that very moment the song stopped as an incoming call came through. I’m not lying. That very moment. And it turned out to be a bill collector. Not that this was a shocker. I get them all the time. But I just had to laugh. Ah, the irony, right?

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We have these things inside of us that we can’t keep from creating, that we can’t help coming out. Things that need to be shared and explored. If we can do anything with them in life, it’s a blessing. If we can earn any kind of money from them, it’s a miracle. But if that’s the journey we take, it’s going to be a long and arduous one.

Everybody knows what it’s like to have a dream, but few know what it’s like to live one out and see it happen. Watching La La Land was a beautiful and moving reminder of this for me.

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