Column - Lessons from La La Land

WHEN I heard and read about the raving reviews and the outstanding film awards for the latest and probably best musical blockbuster from Hollywood, and as a music lover myself, I had to see it, no matter how busy I was.

It was a fun, entertaining and well-choreographed show, the music was superb and the scenes were so innocently and politely romantic, all done in good taste, even for more conservative audiences.

In the "City of Stars" (also the name of the theme song), also known as La La Land (name of the film) or Los Angeles, the Hollywood city known for "destroying hopes and breaking hearts", Boy (Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician) meets Girl (Mia, an aspiring actress) in a number of coincidental events and after a series of humorous hiccups, fall in love with each other.

Both are idealistic and broke but manage to earn a living to support their simple lifestyle while working towards their dreams, for Sebastian to own a jazz club and Mia to become a successful actress.

It is an uphill struggle for both, but Sebastian gets an early break when he joins a band and has to tour with it. A depressed Mia, who is not getting the breaks that she needed, is not in favour of Sebastian taking on this new role. She is not keen to join the tour and she dislikes not having him around.

Sebastian loves Mia deeply and wants to help her get a breakthrough to become a successful actress. When a casting director, whom Sebastian knows, is looking for an actress to play an important role for a film production in Paris, a reluctant Mia is coaxed by Sebastian to go for the audition.

She succeeds in the audition and they part, while professing their love for each other but with a still uncertain future.

Then the film fast forwards five years; Mia has achieved her dream of becoming a successful actress and comes back to La La Land. She is happily married to another man with whom she has a daughter. One night, she and her husband unwittingly end up in a jazz bar and she soon discovers that it belongs to Sebastian. So he had also achieved his dream.

When Sebastian takes the stage to play the piano he spots Mia in the crowd and both are pensive.

Sebastian begins to play their love theme, prompting the two to imagine "what could have been" if everything went their way and they ended up together as a couple.

When the song ends, Mia feels she has to leave before emotions surface. Before departing, she takes one last look at Sebastian and they both give an approving nod but with a sad smile to each other. The ending scene is the most touching moment of all.

Besides the beautiful romance, music and great acting, what are the important lessons of life from the film?

The first lesson is that, like Sebastian and Mia, we must have our own dreams in life. Believe in our dreams but be realistic and stay focused on what we want to do.

The second lesson is that whatever our dreams, we must be prepared to face obstacles and even sacrifices like what Sebastian and Mia did.

The third lesson is that whatever the outcome, based on our own decisions and actions, we must take full responsibility for it and not blame others for it. Even in the ending scene, there was a clear acknowledgement from both Sebastian and Mia, that, much as they were both sad for not ending up together, they accepted the full responsibility of what they had decided to do earlier. As the saying goes "you made your bed, you lie on it".

The fourth lesson from the film is that, often in life, not everything is as bad as it seems. Perceived rejections or failures can actually be blessings in disguise. Even though Sebastian and Mia did not end up as a couple, they were both doing well in their life, so it might have been fated that they did not end up as a couple. Maybe they were only meant for each other for a certain phase of their life.

Those of us who did not end up with a past lover may feel more melancholic and nostalgic as we often wonder how our life would have been if we had ended up with that person.

And the fifth, and probably the most important lesson of life from the film, is that often we cannot have everything the way we want in our life. Life seems to be full of trade-offs and compromises and while we are often given choices, usually, to get one aspect of what we want, we would have to give away another.

Both Sebastian and Mia felt their career was their priority and they even had to sacrifice their love for it. Not that they did not want to be a couple but they had to choose which came first. It might seem to be Sebastian's "fault" for pushing Mia for the audition that resulted in her having to leave him for Paris, but it was a "price" that he was prepared to pay as he loved her unselfishly and wanted to give her the break she needed desperately.

Moving forward with our dreams, once we have decided what we want to achieve in our life, we must learn how to juggle the various demands. It can be considered a success if we are able to achieve 80% of what we set out to do.

To be able to achieve our dreams in today's complex and competitive world, we must also learn to be good at adapting and adjusting to changes or change management. It is not about being fickle or flip-flopping but dealing with situations beyond your control.

It may be that we would need to change plans on our dreams if we are to face insurmountable obstacles. If that happens, it is time to think "beyond the wall" and with an innovative or creative mindset but we must stay honest to our ideals and principles.

The writer, a think-tank strategist, believes that good films are a very powerful medium to communicate important messages about life. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com