La La Land Movie Review and Ending Explained
La La Land is a 50's style Musical for the modern mind. Smart. Insightful. And Poignant. IMDB
4.9Overall Score
Reader Rating: (12 Votes)

I think I spent 90% of my Christmas break in the movie theater. Which… is normally a dream come true. Only problem is? 90% of that time I won’t be using for reviews out here – which, means all that time was wasted! hahah. But there was one movie in particular that I definitely wanted to tell you all about – La La Land, which was basically a nostalgic ramp through my childhood haunts. Definitely blew my mind.

But I generally don’t write about movies filmed in the locations of my childhood. It was actually something that happened to me as we were standing up and leaving that made me think I should probably write about the film. And basically, as I was getting up, EVERYONE around me was saying to their significant other, “Uh,… that was really weird.” Which, made me think that they didn’t like the movie? But as I thought about it some more, and after I found out that La La Land has like an unbelievably high rating on Rotten Tomatoes, etc. that maybe they were saying something different. Maybe it was just the ending that they didn’t understand.

So, I’ll do a quick pitch to everyone that hasn’t seen the film yet. Explain what it’s about. Maybe throw a trailer at you. And then we’ll dive into that head scratcher of an ending and see if we can’t make any sense out of that thing. Ok? I personally thought it was as clear as day, but maybe it wasn’t obvious because it wasn’t specifically a happy ending. Which probably felt enormously incongruous to the film at large.

La La Land’s Song and Dance

While watching Moana with the kids over Christmas week I had an epiphany. I think, it is a global conspiracy that says we don’t love the cinema of the 1950’s. The musicals. The tap. the dancing. The choreography. For some odd reason it is Disney that has retained the rights to this particular formula and has made a multi-billion dollar industry by farming our hidden collective desires. Which is why La La Land is doing so well. To watch a couple take a moment out to put on tap shoes before beginning to sing their dialogue? What? But that is what La La Land is all about. A serendipitous (star-crossed?) romance that centers on two people trying to make their dreams come true in Hollywood. Here, let’s let the trailer tell you – it’s way more eloquent than I am.

So yeah. It’s really really a great movie. The schtick. The Mary Poppins type nostalgia and optimism. Singing and dancing? It’s fantastically old school while still being 100% modern. Which, is a trick really, now that I think about it. So go see it.  But if you saw it, and you were baffled about what it is exactly that you saw, why don’t we walk through La La Land slowly, and explain exactly how that ending shaped up the way it did. But if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you probably want to avert your eyes now. You’ve been warned. But don’t worry, La La Land is started to go wide now, and should be in theaters everywhere by this weekend I’d guess? So find it. Watch it. Then come back.

The Locations of La La Land

First things first, I grew up in all of these old haunts that get paraded throughout La La Land and it was even a little disorienting to see them again. For me, the first half of the movie felt more like Los Angeles tourist advertisement from the Southern California Tourist Bureau than an actual movie. The Griffith Park Observatory. That Colorado Street bridge in Pasadena. Bunker Hill District. And of course, it wouldn’t be LA without a view behind the scenes of the Hollywood Center Studios (which were standing in for Warner Bros. Backlot. Don’t be fooled, even when Hollywood is being “honest” they are most likely lying to you.) But who cares about the old haunts and the old nostalgia? Well, it’s pretty important actually because the movie sets you up for an assumed happy ending. Which. . . would be incorrect. Or would it? Remind me what happened again at the end of that movie!? hahah. We’ll get to that ending in good time my friend.

Quick Overview of La La Land

The story is pretty simple. The story follows Mia (Emma Stone), a starstruck dreamer that wants to make it as an actress in Hollywood some day. She even works on the backlot of the Warner Bros. studios. And she would do anything to finally catch a break. It also follows Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling musician that would do anything to open his own Jazz Bar hot spot in order to bring back the magic years of the city’s jazz scene again. Oh, and it’s about their burgeoning relationship and where their combined and individual dreams are going. But it is Sebastian’s pushing of Mia to really chase her dream that leads her to create a one woman show for herself in the face of getting zero interest in acting interviews. And it’s about that time that Mia encourages Sebastian to talk with an old friend of his Keith (John Legend) about joining his band as a real music opportunity that might actually have some legs.

But these two opportunities open doors that are right angles from each other and so the couple begins to see less and less of each other.

And so, when the movie jumps away from it’s seasonal format and leaps forward five years we are pretty shocked to find that Mia’s a huge actress now. That her one woman show opened doors in Hollywood for herself. That she’s now married and has a family without Sebastian. And likewise, Sebastian has his club that he was dying to have from the beginning of the movie. So yeah, this is possibly worst case scenario from an idealistic musical 50’s movie standpoint.

So when Mia walks into a random joint and sees Sebastian at the keyboard… reality unhinges for the next fifteen minutes of the movie. And basically the movie replays again from start to finish with an alternate reality perspective of how it could have / should have gone. We see Mia, the first time she sees Sebastian play the piano, and instead of Sebastian brushing her off and ignoring her, he stops and talks to her. And then like that, the two are off to the races. So instead of having an animosity filled, contentious relationship that took off slowly everything moves much faster with them both realizing they don’t have a moment to lose. And then together they both take on their dreams and make them happen together, simultaneously.

So their timeline looks something like this:

  1. They meet – blow each other off
  2. Mia bumps into Sebastian working party
  3. Dance together in the street
  4. Start dating
  5. Mia pushes for acting jobs
  6. Sebastian starts touring with Keith
  7. Mia writes one woman show
  8. Mia gets acting gig in Paris
  9. Sebastian purchases night club starts his Jazz dream
  10. Mia gets married, continues acting
  11. Mia has a daughter
  12. Mia and husband stumble into Sebastian’s bar 5 years later


  1. Mia doesn’t bump into Sebastian, they talk
  2. Mia goes straight into acting
  3. Sebastian starts his bar up
  4. They have a son
  5. Live the perfect life they have wanted


  1. Mia’s husband asks if they want to stay for another song
  2. She says no…
  3. Sebastian watches her leave, then begins playing again

Mia’s Flashback or Sebastian’s? 

The really confusing part is how convincing the dream was. I was nearly certain that they would have changed time by making the entirety of the movie a flash forward, and then that would give them a chance to correct their mistakes. But instead, it was a flashback, a hopeful flashback, wherein everything was already decided and nothing was changeable.

But the question I discussed with my wife after watching was a simple one. Who’s flashback was it? I had originally assumed it was Sebastian’s as he was the one that was rude to Mia during that initial meeting, but it was him who changed his entire demeanor for Mia, which was the pivotal change for the entire dream sequence. But my wife assumed it was Mia’s flashback because we followed her into the bar, and stayed with her and her life from the beginning to the end. Which, I actually buy. Why does it matter? Well, it speaks to mindset and intention.

If it was Mia’s vision, then her “No” to her husband (ie, ‘would you like to stay for another song?’), makes a lot of sense because she is not just saying no to the next song, she’s saying no to Sebastian and their life all together.  She’s saying no to the entire vision. But if it is Sebastian’s vision, and his regrets, then that’s all it is, regrets. Which, isn’t a half bad perspective now that I think about it. (Yeah! My idea wasn’t half bad – SOTHERE!)

La La Land Ending Explained

The problem with the Disney way of thinking is that it’s still entrenched in 1950’s happy ending thought. Sure. Sure. We have empowered our ‘princesses’ to save themselves now. But it’s still happy ending tripe. La La Land though has taken the beauty and the pageantry of the 1950’s style movies (music, tapping, synchronized story telling via dance and music.) But happy endings are so, they are soo… they are so 1950’s. Or something. We know better than happy endings here in the oughts and beyond. We know that the world sucks and so we want our entertainment to reflect that misery.

And so La La Land does. It took the story of two hard charging independent people and told it realistically. We see Mia be successful enough to grab the ear of a studio exec. Could happen. And we see Sebastian be successful to join Keith’s band and build a new kind of Jazz. Could happen. We also see two lives torn apart by the independence and solitariness that those lives bring. Really could happen.

Which is why half the audience, while they were putting on their coats, said to their significant other… ‘That was WEIRD Henry! What WAS that?’ Because they were seeing a reinvisioned and reinvigorated movie style and form for the modern age and a modern audience. Even if it is a more jaded and disenchanted ending. It was an ending that matches with our more unimpressed and disillusioned selves. Whatever you do, do make them independent, smart, and together in the end, because you and I both know that that right there is bull.

No? Not buying what I’m selling. Hey, I’m just one guy over here, trying to help out all you’ll out there that can’t make heads or tails of that ending. Regardless, this is a great movie.

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7 Responses

  1. Lisa

    Hi Taylor,

    Wondering what the hell this movie was about after I saw it in the theatre, I started googling and I read your article. Although I agree with you on the fact that the end of this movie was more of a reality check and a new turn on a happy ending, although, I absolutely hated it.
    My favourite movie of all time is ‘500 Days Of Summer’, a movie that also doesn’t end the way you want it to. But I feel like that gave the movie more strength, and it made me quite emotional because I recognized the heartbroken feeling that Tom (main character) had. In this movie I wasn’t feeling the love and passion of Mia and Seb at all. I missed the cute and silly parts in the movie, and I felt like there were pieces of the movie that the directors had cut out. I, for example, was expecting that there was going to be a plot twist with Mia’s aunt, or that we saw her and got to know her. I also felt like it was weird that Mia was going to her parents, we didn’t see much of them and I felt like that was a bummer. At some point I even thought they were going to write a musical together, named ‘Chicago the musical’ (All That Jazz… get it?) but that ,sadly, didn’t happen.

    Anyway, I thought this was going to be my next favourite movie, but I think I missed the point. Thank you for explaining some parts though! By the way, I’m not trying to convince anyone by this comment, I just wanted to let you know my opinion about the movie because I really recognized the ‘what WAS that?’ that you wrote in your article.

    Greetings from Holland (sorry if my English is not correct sometimes)


    • Taylor Holmes

      Great response Lisa…
      (And perfect English too! Well done!) I totally understand what you are saying. You were hoping for more clarity on their relationship and more of a single direction for them. I take it that you didn’t see the movie making sense.

      Which is interesting, because the movie just kicked ass at the Golden Globes awards and will probably sweep at the Oscars as well. Just a guess on my part. So we have to ask ourselves… if the critics dug it, what were they digging? (Sorry, using a LOT of hard to understand colloquialisms!) Anyway, I personally liked the disjointed elements of the happiness of the dancing and singing juxtaposed with the unhappy ending. Personally it really messed with the audience a ton and makes us think. Huhh. Wait. Is career more important than family? Is family more important than career? Are our dreams the most important thing? Just made me think. Which is what I want from a good movie.

      Thanks a ton for the thoughts!!

      • Jemma

        I totally agree with the whole ‘is this movie telling us to follow our dreams at all costs??’ thing. What I took from it was that life is a compromise – we all have our individual paths that we walk down, and some things will work out while others won’t. I felt like it showed what a fallacy ‘one true love’ and the romanticism that our culture worships is, and that the (often multiple) people you fall in love with in life are actually a huge part of shaping your character and future (Sebastian encouraging Mia to follow her dreams). Movies tend to focus on ‘the one’, where no other romantic partner matters – here I feel it showed what a beautiful gift past relationships can be, and how it’s important to let go sometimes while still appreciating what was.

      • Taylor Holmes

        So smart. Yes, totally, it is a polemic against this ‘one true love’ fallacy.

        There was a guy that did the math on individuals finding similar individuals (religion, IQ, education, experience) which we all look for in a mate. Man, what was that guy’s name? I’d look him up but my computer is in mid-freefall and highly doubt it could handle one more tab being opened. Anyway, the larger point there was that there are decidedly FEW people that fall into our desired category of ‘mate material’. It’s a wonder that anyone gets hooked up at all. Think several thousand in New York City area type of numbers. Ah, found him on my phone, think his name is Peter Backus. And while I don’t subscribe to his specific thesis, his general tenet is interesting. There are decidedly few people in the world that I am compatible with. Now granted, love doesn’t work like that… but you get the larger point. Love is tricky. And very very unlike what the movies would have you believe.

        I personally will have to take your word for it when it comes to how beautiful past relationships can be… cough. haha. But I get your point. The sum of our experiences make up the sum of who we have become. And to have such a idyllic looking film, with dance sequences on LA freeways espouse such a non-idyllic viewpoint?? Mind blowing really. And actually almost too much for our brains to handle. Which, I think, is why most people dislike the ending fairly rabidly. But is why I adore the ending. Such a great right hook that is straight out of reality. But, that’s just my own two cents.

  2. MMZ

    Hey Taylor,
    Great review, thank you. I loved the movie. But for me it WAS a romantic ending. Maybe not with the “prince” we got to know and love, but it was a prince nonetheless.
    For me the movie spoke of all those people that in a way or another help us get were we are, and makes us who we are. We make the decision of giving them an active role or a seconday role and they do the same with us. We have the power to either (a) help them achieve their/our dreams and then move on to be happy with someone else (or alone, in Sebastian’s case); or (b) continue along the same path and be equally happy together.
    For me the ending showed happiness is not attached to someone else, hapiness is within us. WE are a prince/princess on our own, and we elevate our partner to that status with the decisions we make.
    Is pragmatic romanticism a thing? Because this movie would be the perfect way to explain it.

    • Taylor Holmes

      Fair enough MMZ…
      I buy it. (Never mind the fact that Gosling watched her walked out the door… BUT OK! HAHHA) Seriously though, well thought through. And you are right, we are the sum of all our experiences that have brought us from there <--------- to here ---------> so, yes, I agree.


  3. Chris

    “Incongruous” ending? You got that right, motherfucker.
    Just watched LaLa Land on DVD.
    My take?
    I found your website by typing the following into Google – “LaLa Land fucked up ending”. You were like #4 in the results.
    Look. I was awestruck by the sets, the acting, the production design, the directing, et al….
    And part of what floored me, I admit, was that simmering current of reality amidst all that magical realism. For example, watching Mia break down outside the movie theatre after the heartbreaking opening/closing night of her 1 woman play…”I’m done!”. As that scene developed, I was struck by the dichotomy of the mid 20th century musical and what Damien Chazelle was trying to accomplish here (analogous to the movie’s “pure jazz” vs. an ever changing, artistic interpretation). I mean, could you imagine Debbie Reynold’s and Gene Kelly bringing that real emotion to their musicals? I loved it!
    But here’s the deal — what was evident THROUGHOUT the movie (from the score to the dancing to the production design) was that any deviation from the traditional musical was merely an update to the form. That the undercurrent of 2016 relevancy to life in LA would be subsumed by the overall thematic demands of what LaLa Land actually is::: Singing In The Rain…not West Side Story.
    LaLa Land is a love story…to LA/Hollywood and to 2 young lovers. That’s the premise and the bargain that the director makes with us throughout 4/5ths of the film. The entire movie begins and progresses from that simple viewpoint. But the ending? What a fucking sucker punch!
    Sure it’s just a movie, but after investing 2 hours into this top notch production….how about an emotional payoff!….not a heart ripping, ass/mind fuck?!!!
    It’s a love story, not Apocalypse Now.
    And the bullshit, inverted It’s A Wonderful Life take on what could have been is nothing more than emotional blackmail.
    Final analysis— first 2 hours of the movie = 5 stars
    Last 15 minutes? If I had the big fork that my granddad used to carve Thanksgiving turkey…I would’ve stuck it in Damien Chazelle’s face.
    Pishy caca, indeed!


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