Thesis: Can Mia and Sebastion accept the change in store for them?
Inciting incident: Mia and Sebastion meet after he’s fired.
LA hasn’t kept much for Mia and Sebastion, she an actress still barista on the Warner Brothers lot, and he, a talented pianist holed up with the remnants of a dead jazz club in his apartment. By chance, she meets him at a Christmas Eve restaurant, low light, as his fingers let linger the finale of a jazz composition. Sebastion’s fired for not sticking 'to the script,' and when Mia moves towards him in complete awe, he shoves her aside.
These artists haven’t encountered their catalyst before now. Throughout the film they become the eyeglass for each other that finds something there, the inkling of something better. Had they not met, we wouldn’t have a story.
End of the First Act: Mia and Sebastion dance.
By chance encounter the two meet again, this time with Sebastion playing the keys for an 80’s cover band at a pool party. Mia requests “I Ran,” just to see him try and play his cool out of it. After the party they walk together, clicking car keys down a Hollywood street until they reach a beautiful view. In this moment they sing the duet "A Lovely Night," a song about a lovely moment, the perfect time, wasted on two people who can't stand each other.
We could possibly say that Sebastion asking Mia out to see Rebel Without A Cause is the true end of the first act as it’s the most obvious reach for connection, but there’s just no love in it. La La Land is a musical. It asks the audience to understand the implication between two people tap dancing on screen, the immediacy - even if they’re tip toeing against their nascent love, claiming –
“What a waste of a lovely night.”
They become interlinked in this moment.
Midpoint: Mia and Sebastion kiss.
Neither can’t stop thinking of the other. Instead of waiting for the universe to cross them together, Sebastion asks Mia out to a date to see Rebel Without A Cause for ‘research,’ on her newest call back. She accepts but gets stuck on a stuffy dinner date late that night, the topic of discussion: underdeveloped Nicaragua, spoken by a man sucking wine through his teeth. She knows where she has to be, and leaves with –
- rushing to be with Sebastion. They kiss.
An effective turning point changes the direction of action. With the question of them becoming an item answered, we change course. The rest of the film presses them down to find the answer of what they’re willing to do, what they’re willing to give up for their dreams.
Low Point: Mia and Sebastion abandon the pursuit of their dream.
Sebastion finds work with a jazz band that’s rocketing towards a place of musical evolution that he, in his purist heart, can’t meld with no matter how successful it becomes. While he’s away on tour, Mia stays alone in LA. She’s taken on the weight of a one woman show, producing, acting, writing it to happen. In a theater that can seat fifty, by the end of the show she only seats ten of her closest friends. Sebastion misses the show and catches her on exit where in anger she departs. He stays in LA. She goes back to live with her parents.
“I’m done embarrassing myself.”
The abandoned dream is the near death of two characters who go day by day living on it. The reality of an outside world invades their fight; a mirror that might explain why their dreams haven’t come true. We’ve touched the low point.
Climax: Mia and Sebastion admit that they will always love each other, and part ways.
Sebastion, alone and in the apartment gets a call from a famous casting director that saw Mia’s one woman show. He drives down to pick her up, and brings her to the audition. For her audition she's told to tell a story, any story. We dive into a loving soliloquy, sung about her grandmother, leaping into a river with her bare feet. Intuition tells Sebastion that she's landed part, that she’ll need to put all of herself into it once she has to go to Paris. In this case, they realize they have to part, for the better of both.
I would argue that La La Land doesn’t actually have a resolution. I’m listing this moment as the climax because it satisfies the qualifications for any good one. Something critical is given up for the sake of something better. The characters recognize that they have to compromise their relationship for what their dreams are. I’m not entirely convinced by this and I’ll expand in –
Resolution: Mia and Sebastion accept the change life has brought them.
Five years later, Warner Brothers lot, Mia orders two cappuccinos from a barista that looks at her through the same starry eyes she once had. Now an actress, adored. She has a beautiful home, husband, child, a present future inherent. On a date, she and her husband find themselves in Sebastion’s Jazz club, where he notices her and plays their song. The piano keys roll off everything that need to be said, and just before the leave, they give each other a look that spans those five missing years.
The intention of The Reel Act is to demystify the nature of screenplay structure while at the same elaborate on how unearthing structure is inherently an artistic endeavor. We invest meaning, imply to know – the specific narrative undulation of these characters. Sometimes I’ll be by the book. But I’ll twist my own arm and say I believe that La La Land’s resolution is its climax.
Through Sebastion’s song, their connection is still fighting for a different story, that maybe Mia would leave, husband, child, future ever just to get back to Sebastion. A start all over. But we get the answer, a sweet thing in the form of a final glance, a smile, that releases their tie together. They allow their lives to change. They don’t fight against it.