La La Land is Hollywood’s version of 'Make America Great Again'
La La Land, which is nominated for a record-tying 14 Academy Awards, is a fantasy-musical that tells the story of Mia, a barista, and aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a struggling musician, as they navigate their relationship and the travails of life in Hollywood. While the story of Mia and Sebastian is a play on the age-old musical love story, the more elemental myth at the core of the film is one of passionately delusional confidence and a wistful yearning for a return to glory.
“People love what other people are passionate about” – Mia
Just like the premise of La La Land, Trump’s candidacy was founded on a similar type of exuberant expectation and backward-looking inspiration. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” was nebulous and hopeful, as were previous successful campaigns, from Reagan’s “It’s Morning Again in America,” to Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” to Obama’s “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can.” This upbeat and anticipatory message has successfully played upon American’s hopeful idealism for generations.
“How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” – Keith
Trump is harkening back to a past time of national grandeur is echoed in La La Land as well. The film is a cinematic ode to Hollywood’s history. Mia, played by Emma Stone, was raised on vintage movies and works at a coffee shop on a studio lot, where she can point out where all the classic scenes of old were shot. In addition, Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, is a jazz purist, traditionalist, and staunch idealist. Jazz, the kind Sebastian reveres, was at its creative heights in the 1940’s, 50’s and early 60’s, which coincides with Hollywood’s golden age of the classical musical. This pre-1960’s revolution era is often thought to be the time Trump refers to when he proclaims he is going to “Make America Great Again.”
“I’m letting life hit me ‘til it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back. It’s a classic rope a dope.” – Sebastian
Like Trump the billionaire, selling the American success story, La La Land reinforces the age-old Hollywood rags to riches tale. If Mia, the barista, works hard enough and believes strong enough, then her dream of making it as an actress will become a reality. As an acting coach out here in Los Angeles, I can testify that there is a never ending tide of young people from across the country who come here inspired by that same story. They may or may not have talent, or looks, or a work ethic, but like Mia, they all have a dream and limitless ambition.
“They worship everything and value nothing.” – Sebastian
And I know, 'regular' people in Middle-America may laugh at these eager would-be actors and think they’re foolish for following their dream. I understand, it seems ridiculous from the outside looking in, but left coast liberals think the same of their flyover country opposites. Those Springsteen voters, the white-working class Trump supporters from the rust belt, seem just as optimistically foolhardy as the fresh-off-the-bus, wannabe starlets who come to Tinseltown by the thousands to claim their millions. The ingénue has La La Land as inspiration, and the Springsteen voter has Trump as an aspirational figure. Both are certainly being unrealistic and impractical, but that doesn’t mean their dreams won’t come true, just that it’s a very long shot at best.
The thing about Americans, regardless of political party, race or religion is that they not only want to believe, they need to believe. Americans will buy into anyone or anything that restores their belief in their country or themselves. Making people “believe” in their dreams has been the film industry’s goal from day one. The Hollywood sign might as well be a banner that says “Dreams For Sale” that looms over the entire city. Trump has made a name, a fortune, and a presidency, out of doing the same thing. Trump has convinced, and his opponents would say “conned,” people into putting their trust into him to restore their dream for the country.
“You’re a barista; I can see how you can look down on me from all the way up there.” – Sebastian
While both Trump and La La Land are selling sentimentality for a bygone era, they’re also putting a new twist on that old song and dance. For instance, La La Land is not just a rehash of the old classical musical but is a reimaging of the musical genre; it is a “millennial musical” if you will. The film is intentionally less polished, and therefore seemingly more genuine, that its glitzy and fancy forebears. The film’s two stars, Gosling and Stone, are good enough at singing and dancing, but not nearly as technically impeccable as the musical stars of old. The reason for this is their short-comings make them more human and therefore appealing to the modern audience which values relate-ability over all else.
Trump is similar in that he is a politician for the millennial age. His speeches are not like the speeches of the consummate politicos he went up against. He speaks roughly, off-the-cuff, just like his audience. That is why Trump resonated with those Springsteen voters; they thought that even though he was a silver-spooned billionaire, he was rough around the edges, like them. As with La La Land, it is Trump’s flaws that made him more attractive to his crowds, because it made him approachable.
“Maybe I’m not good enough!” – Mia
“Yes you are!” – Sebastian
“Maybe I’m not, it’s like a pipe dream!” – Mia
“This is the dream! It’s conflict and compromise, and it’s very, very exciting!” – Sebastian
As an example of the psychological need many people have a myth, I will relate a brief anecdote. I had a discussion many years ago with an actor who was in his late-seventies. He was a tremendous guy, gigantic heart, just the salt of the earth. He had never had any success as an actor at all, none, but he loved doing it, and he hustled his butt off to look for work. To give you an indication of where he was in his career, at the time of our conversation, his only work was volunteering as a stand-up comedian at a nursing home. We were chatting about our lives and our love of acting, film, and theater when he paused as if to compose himself.
He slowly turned to me and looked me right in the eye, and with a deeply moving sincerity he said, “I gotta tell you, Mick, sometimes I wonder…am I ever going to make it?”
I was taken aback by his heartfelt emotion, and put my hand on his shoulder to reassure him.
He then said, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do if I don’t make it.”
I knew very well that he was never going to “make it,” but seeing the desolation in his eyes at even the briefest consideration of that fact, reinforced my decision not to burst his bubble.
It would be easy to think of my starry-eyed compatriot as a fool or crazy, as his pie-in-the-sky vision of stardom was obviously a pipe dream. But like the unemployed machinist in Youngstown or the former assembly line worker in Flint, my old-timer pal wasn’t insane, just a hopeless dreamer. My friend, like those rust belt Trump voters, wanted to believe that his life could be better. He needed to believe in the fable that Hollywood presented to him, just like regular Americans need to believe in the tale Trump is offering them, which happens to be the same. This myth gave my friend’s life meaning just as Trump has given a purpose to those who felt like they had none.
“Here’s to the one’s who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make." – Mia
My friend has long since died, his dreams of theatrical notoriety buried with him. I don’t doubt that he would have loved La La Land as it would have spoken to his inherent love of the fantastical and his eternal hope for the impossible, just like Springsteen voters love Trump.
The title of the film La La Land has two meanings, the first, is that it is a nickname for the movie’s setting, the city of Los Angeles and Hollywood. The second definition of the term is “a fanciful state or dream world.”La La Land, its title’s multiple meanings and the parable at its core, are a wonderful metaphor for the current state of America. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all live in La La Land now.
Michael McCaffrey, for RT
Michael McCaffrey is a freelance writer, film critic and cultural commentator. He currently resides in Los Angeles where he runs his acting coaching and media consulting business. mpmacting.com/blog/
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.