An HE thread guy complained yesterday about La La Land, lamenting that “it had so much potential, and it ends up being about absolutely nothing. There’s no subtext to it…it’s like a film school exercise. I’m glad that people like it, but I don’t understand why.”

To which I replied: “No subtext? La La Land isn’t just some film-school exercise or tribute to old-time musicals or Jacques Demy. It’s a happy-sad thing that throbs with real-life subtext. It’s a kin of Carousel in that it says over and over that life is mostly no picnic and sometimes fraught with struggle and disappointment. It understands love in both a present-day and eternal context, but is occasionally a cousin of Dancer in the Dark in its view that sometimes musical dreams are necessary alternate realms — places that we go to for both nourishment and escape.

La La Land is about the well-known fact that love affairs aren’t easy, and that sometimes they can dwindle or lose steam in the face of hard career choices and financial burdens. It’s also invested in the basic scheme of a musical, which is that people of any spirit or dimension will sometimes fly or dive into alternate musical realities in their heads, especially when they’re really caught up in strong emotions or a place of deep need or anguish…when they want to dwell in their dreams about the here-and-now or more often what might be, or what might have been.

“The ending of La La Land is shattering because it creates transcendent musical and visual poetry out of a certain ‘what might have been’ dream. It floods you, melts you right down.”