In Search of Authenticity in “La La Land”

In Search of Authenticity in La La Land

By: Andrew Becker

Staff Writer

On the surface La La Land follows the relationship between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s characters, but looking deeper at the music within the musical, specifically jazz, as well as the surrounding backdrop of Hollywood and stardom, one develops even bigger, moving questions than the will-they-or-won’t-they romance: what’s authentic, and what’s superficial? Acting, by its very nature, appears superficial—fake. As the movie’s title suggests, the world of movies and fame is dreamlike, imaginative, and perhaps, not realistic or authentic in any way, shape, or form. This is Emma Stone’s world: biased auditions with zero callbacks, all while serving fancy coffee and gluten-free pastries to the true big-screen stars. She wants nothing more than to make a career out of pretending to be someone she is not, to escape her authentic self.

However, beneath the glitz and glamour, Gosling’s character, a struggling jazz pianist, arises. Gosling’s character wants nothing more than to play the music that moves him, to be himself. His obsession with the authenticity of jazz music, and his struggle with what appears to be the genre’s death throes in a superficial dreamland, strains every relationship he has. That is, until the night Emma Stone wanders into the same lousy gin-joint he happens to be playing at. The composition that mesmerizes Stone in this scene causes Gosling to lose his job, which severely underutilized his skills on piano. In a sense, Gosling’s character doesn’t feel like the music he’s being payed to play has meaning or authenticity, and he rebels against it in the true spirit of jazz and James Dean. This sentiment repeats the next time we see Stone and Gosling together: at a swanky party in the Hollywood hills, a new-wave cover band plays, and Stone recognizes the incredibly bored keytarist on stage as Gosling; she requests “I Ran,” by a Flock of Seagulls—a vindictive joke causing a reaction in Gosling who finds the music beneath him. And it is, considering the type of phenomenal musicianship Gosling has already shown the audience.

What started in the movie’s opening scene with a middle finger in deadlocked traffic, turns into an unlikely romance between them. They two tell each other their dreams: Stone wishes to write and star in her own works, while Gosling wants to reclaim a Hollywood jazz club and have Charlie Parker tunes played to an interested audience (and don’t we all?). As their time together progresses, things get complicated: Stone begins working on a one-woman-show, and Gosling begins touring with a successful band that blends jazz with an emerging, mainstream, electronic music. As Gosling’s band becomes more and more successful, Stone questions his authenticity, and Gosling misses Stone’s show—which, at first, appears to be a complete flop. What promise La La Land had seems to have faded into broken dreams and broken relationships. But this is a big-budget Hollywood musical, so you can expect a happy ending. As it turns out, Stone’s arguably superficial dreams are achieved because of her own, previously unrealized, authenticity. And Gosling’s departure from the music he loves grants him the success and money needed to open his own club. It’s a happy ending, sort of, that calls into question what it means to have meaning, to feel, to be. And it’s a film that’s surely to be a favorite at this year’s Oscars.