Oscar-winning actor and popular musician Jared Leto dons another hat and takes on the role of documentary director with an impressive film enjoying its world premiere in Tribeca, A Day in the Life of America. Filmed over the course of a single day — July 4, 2017 — the film provides often beautiful glimpses of very distinctive parts of the country in the age of Trump. Alternately disturbing and inspiring, it manages to capture the diversity of America in a tight 73 minutes.
Leto had camera crews in all 50 states while he coordinated in Los Angeles, though he ended up using major footage from only about half the states. But he covers an impressive range, with key segments in New York, California and Washington, D.C., along with vignettes from Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan and Oklahoma, among many other states. There are gun-loving rednecks, blacks, gays and Muslims, and if it sometimes seems that Leto is trying to add notches to his belt by including as many minorities as possible, most of the interludes are quite revealing.
Among the most disturbing scenes are those with white supremacists in North Carolina who are preparing for the march in Charlottesville, Va., that would take place a month later and demonstrate the darkest currents in the country in 2017. As some of these racists talk about the purity of America being soiled by immigrants, the film shrewdly cuts to a scene of beautiful Native American rituals in South Dakota, a reminder that white Americans were not the first residents of this country.
There are other harsh snapshots of sad corners of America. Black residents in the Chicago area talk about the omnipresence of violence and their inability to distinguish the sound of gunshots from firecrackers on the Fourth of July. Black Louisianans provide a bit of a history lesson about the inequities that greeted soldiers returning to their homes in the South after World War II.
Although many of the vignettes have political implications, there are other episodes that merely demonstrate some of the bizarre quirks within the country; we meet porn actors in California, West Virginia drug addicts, a Wisconsin female truck driver, two gay roller skaters in Texas. There are some poignant interludes, including a vignette about a former bodybuilder dying of cancer in Alabama, and a saga about a man from Canada who found a team of neurosurgeons in California who saved his life; he decided to express his gratitude to America by walking across the entire country.
Visually the film is richly composed, and the lyrical music by Leto’s band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, complements the imagery effectively. Inevitably some episodes are more revealing than others, and this is a rare film that sometimes seems too truncated. Perhaps the display of fireworks at the climax, followed by the birth of a new baby, leaves an overly optimistic impression given the darker currents depicted. But as an introduction to the often startling contradictions of a country in turmoil, the film scintillates.
Production company: Paradox Production
Director: Jared Leto
Producers: Jared Leto, Emma Ludbrook
Executive producers: John Janick, Steve Berman, Jason Koffeman, Samuel Nalband
Editors: Samuel Nalband, Andy R. Worboys
Music: Thirty Seconds to Mars
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)