Jennifer Danny | ‘La La Land’ and Contemplating the ‘What If’

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Today I write about “La, La Land,” the movie that came out a few years ago depicting two people who are more or less together, but also trying to “live the dream of all that glitters is gold.” 

I found it interesting in part because I was “that girl.” I worked in the biz as a tour guide for Universal Studios and also as a stage host. Eventually I landed at a job in film distribution on the Lorimar lot. 

It was the mid-1980s and I had graduated college with a bachelor of science degree in business administration, with a marketing option. Back in the day Cal State Northridge’s business program was quite the place to be. 

I say this because many successful people I know now had either preceded me by going there or were classmates of mine while I was there. Originally, I wanted to major in journalism; but my father said business was the better choice. 

Being the dutiful daughter that I was and still am, I majored in business. OK, think “Valley Girl” and College 101, “like, totally,” to get an idea of what life was about back then. 

After I graduated from college, I worked in restaurant management, but I longed for more. I ended up getting a job in international film sales and worked on the Lorimar lot in Culver City; incidentally, that was the original home of MGM studios and Louis B. Mayer had boasted, “It had more stars than there are in heaven,” and in many ways that was the truth. 

Being on the studio lot each day was exciting, and as I watched “La, La Land,” I felt like I was back in time. Regardless of when that movie took place, it captured everything about what it was like to actually be a part of the entertainment industry.

The characters in that movie were both pursuing their dreams, one as an actress, and one as a jazz club musician. Together, yet very apart, because each of them wanted the other to gain success; even if it meant they might not stay in the relationship. 

Recently I re-watched this movie with my son. He had never seen it. He’s currently in graduate school pursuing his master of fine arts degree. When the movie was over, I was ready to hear what he thought, and I was quite surprised that he felt completely different about the movie than I did. 

He summed it up:

“La, La Land” – While younger and older perspectives may differ on the film, through communication and dialogue both views can be helpful for the individuals. A younger perspective can visualize the older and perhaps contemplate ideas earlier than they would have otherwise. Conversely, the older perspective can reminisce and look back on their younger perspectives and see how far they have come.

I thought about what he had said. Later on, we discussed it further and I told him it was more about people chasing their dream first, and in this case they both achieved that. The loss of their relationship was the result of going ahead, keeping your eye on the prize, trying to attain your goal and not allowing anything to hold you back. 

I attributed our difference in opinion to my life being where it was as a wife, mom and woman in her late 50s, and his life, full of wonder and potential at the tender age of 24. 

I remembered about five years ago I had visited a client whose office was on Sunset Boulevard. When it was time for me to leave, I decided to drive along Sunset and go through Laurel Canyon to get back to the Valley. I looked up at the huge movie and music billboards that were a part of that boulevard. Nothing had changed, except for the names and titles, of course. 

It brought back a lot of memories, parties at the venues, dinners and movie openings. I wondered what might have happened had I stayed in that industry? 

It was over 30 years ago and now I was working in a completely different field. As I got to the Valley, and turned on Riverside Drive, making my way to the 170 north, the song, “How Much I Feel” by Ambrosia came on the radio and by the second verse I had lost it. My eyes had welled up with tears, and I was “caught in the moment of what if?” 

Had I chased my dream, or did I just ebb and flow and let it go? 

I understood the “La La Land” ending, as she revisited the “what if.” But in the end a simple nod and smile were exchanged with each other, and she would go off with her husband. The jazz musician would give the one, two, three and let the music begin again. 

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” Inherently I know that, but to this day I still cannot listen to that Ambrosia song with a dry eye and not ponder the “what if.”

Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.

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