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  • Writer's pictureCristina Waldner

Dreaming of La La Land

A little chance encounter / Could be the one you’ve waited for.

"Someone in the Crowd"

While Mia and her friends sing about catching a big break at a posh Hollywood party in “Someone in the Crowd,” this is how I feel about La La Land itself. A modern-day musical with a throwback to old Hollywood glamour, La La Land follows the ill-fated love story of Sebastian and Mia, two aspiring entertainers with big talent and even bigger dreams. The film is vivacious yet poignant, larger than life yet intimate, bright yet moody. When I saw the film in the winter of 2017, I was captivated. Like a girl invited to dance by the most handsome boy at the ball, La La Land takes you by the hand and leads you in the breathtaking waltz of your dreams.

Watching the film, I quickly realized I needed that spark, that sparkle in my life more than anybody knew. I was stuck. In life, in dreams, in goals. In wanting to be somebody else, anybody else with different circumstances. I am still stuck, but this movie made me feel something. Call it inspiration, a wake-up call, divine intervention. Whatever it was, it was magical.

City of Stars / Are you shining just for me?

So, what was it about La La Land that I so desperately needed to hear? At one point or another, I have been told that I’m not pretty enough, capable enough, or smart enough to succeed. My parents raised me with so much encouragement and love, with strong messages of positive body image, value, and confidence. But when I would go out into the world, it was hard to ignore the stares and rude remarks people made. As a teenager, I was able to take these negative comments and use it as motivation.

You think I’m ugly? How about I dazzle you with my smile so that you’re not looking at the rest of my body.

You think I’m going to be a drain on society? Well maybe I’ll start a small business and you can stop by and purchase one of my paintings.

Oh, you think I’m not smart enough to win these academic awards myself? Maybe I’ll win so many awards and scholarships that this little miscommunication can be cleared up.

I had tenacity. I had fire. I had grit. I was brave. I was strong. I was a fighter.

I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back. It’s a classic rope-a-dope.

That was then, this is now. I lost it all. The fire in my blood, the fight in my eyes. As I started my undergraduate studies and with each passing year, my fire grew dimmer. I have always loved to learn and a double major in Counseling Studies and English offered a great mix of both creative and practical skills. Yet, the daily grind of excelling academically and running my own business was taking a toll on my health and my relationships. I was still headed for the same goals but the finish line seemed to move farther and farther away.

I don’t know why I was so surprised that it could happen to me. Having Muscular Dystrophy from the time before I was born, I should have known that this was bound to happen. Muscle atrophy. Degeneration. Progressive weakness.

I was able to do increasingly less—less hanging out with friends, less errands, less of, well, everything. I had recently taken a break from going to a university campus (my safe haven) and was taking distance education instead. Less stress, less cold winter commutes, less happiness, really.

One day as I was watching a daytime talk show, I saw a trailer for a movie called La La Land. I was hooked. I knew I had to see it and I knew that it had to be on the big screen. The song and dance sequences in the trailer were so colorful, so vibrant, so brilliantly choreographed that only a massive movie screen could do such a big production justice.

My mom and I after watching La La Land

Problem: I don’t really go to movies anymore. It’s hard enough leaving the house in a power wheelchair during a Manitoban deep-freeze as it is, but to schedule leaving the house according to the theatre’s time instead of my own is difficult to say the least. As it turned out, on a surprisingly mild February afternoon, an opportunity presented itself for my mom and I to see La La Land. As the theatre lights dimmed and the sounds of the opening number began, a hush fell over the crowded cinema. This was it.


Somewhere there’s a place where I find who I’m gonna be / A somewhere that’s just waiting to be found.

The film starts off with the camera panning a lineup of cars stuck in that stereotypical Los Angeles traffic jam, focusing on the diversity of people and what they are listening to on the radio. You got your classical, pop, hip hop, talk radio, and jazz (Sebastian’s car, of course). Very quickly though, you realize that this is not an ordinary traffic jam. All of the sudden the miscellany of people start to sing and dance “Another Day of Sun” in flawless harmony with choreography that makes everyone more like neighbors than strangers.

"Another Day of Sun"

It’s about creativity, connection, and imagination. It is completely unrealistic. I mean, if this were to happen in real life, everyone involved would get citizens arrests for singing and dancing on tops of vehicles. Hundreds of vehicles would have to be impounded. My goodness, think of the madness.

“A bit of madness is key

to give us new colors to see.

Who knows where it will lead us?

And that’s why they need us.”

Almost immediately, the film forces you to make a decision. Like Aladdin holding out his hand to Jasmine as she contemplates stepping on the magic carpet, the film asks, “Do you trust me?” You either have to turn your back on the entire experience on account of improbability or reach out your hand and say, “Yes!”

Once you choose to go along for the ride, you immediately get swept up in the world of La La Land. Watching the movie unfold, I am losing myself in the dazzling costumes, the bright lights of LA, and the unapologetic search for following your dreams. For the first time since high school, I am able to once again consider my dreams. The conviction Sebastian and Mia show in their crafts, a jazz pianist and an actress respectively, is the conviction I used to have about my own life.

Thus, the beauty of the film lies just as much in the poignancy of self-realization as the vibrant costumes and cinematography. The film casts a shadow on the sleepy way one is living one’s life while illuminating the dreams that one has pushed down in the hum-drum of daily life. I can still hear Sebastian hum the tune of the film’s celebrated melody “City of Stars.”

"City of Stars"

Do-do-do-dah-do-do / Do-do-do-dah-do-do.

Can’t you hear it too?

Everyone needs to hear a message of positivity. The possibility of your dreams coming true if you never give up, never give in to the pressures of life. Everyone’s dreams will be different of course, but we can all identify with the hope of our dreams.

Like the protagonists in La La Land, though, being relentless in that pursuit does not come without sacrifice. You might lose something along the way but you might also discover a hope that you didn't dare believe.

Here’s to the ones who dream / Foolish as they may seem.

What is my dream, you might ask? Rediscovery.

I feel as though I am at a turning point in my life and this movie has a message I really needed to hear: dream and dream big. Having a disability can rob you of so much: your dignity, your self-esteem, and your passions among other things. When each day is a struggle, I have lost sight of my dreams. I need to rediscover my eighteen year-old self. The one who thought that life could be full of possibilities, not heartache. I am so exhausted by my life that I can’t see a way to change.

Who’s been there? Who’s been so exhausted, so burnt out, so utterly clouded that you’re too scared to change because change, of any kind, might ruin how you get from one day to the next?

Mia: … maybe I'm not good enough!

Sebastian: Yes, you are.

Mia: No, no maybe I’m not.

Sebastian: Yes, you are.

Mia: Maybe I’m not.

Sebastian: You are.

Mia: Maybe I’m not.

Sebastian: You are.

Mia: Maybe I’m one of those people that has always wanted to do it but it’s like a pipe dream for me…

Like Mia, I thought my aspirations were just a pipe dream, an illusion of hope because my circumstances were too difficult to expect anything more from life. Like Sebastian, though, La La Land is the idealistic, positive tour de force that convinces me that I am good enough, worthy enough, to invest in going after my dreams.


Thus, on that surprisingly mild February afternoon, in a dark lit theatre, I actually saw a small shaft of light for my life. As Sebastian and Mia waltzed on the sparkle of stars during “Planetarium,” a part of my soul lit up. Enlightenment of what my purpose should be. Why had God given me this life? This life filled with medical equipment, medicine, and loneliness? To help others not to feel alone in whatever struggle they are going through. I now know I need to open up to people, to share what life is like being in a wheelchair, to bring awareness to what Spinal Muscular Atrophy is and what it can do to people.

Write something that's as interesting as you are.

To say that SMA is a horrible disease is an understatement but I also want people to know that I am more than my disease. I have a soul. I have hopes and dreams as much as anyone else.

People love what other people are passionate about.

Yes, people love what other people are passionate about. Watching La La Land brought illumination to my dream, my purpose, my passion.

So, what’s yours?

- Crissi xo

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