REVIEW: Life in a Day [2011]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: January 27th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: National Geographic Entertainment
Director(s): Kevin Macdonald

“Because its a happy film. It has a happy ending”

With its genesis coming from an idea to commemorate YouTube’s fifth anniversary, the enlistment of producer Ridley Scott and director Kevin Macdonald saw the concept expand into one of a feature film telling the world its own story of July 24, 2010. Culled from 4,500 hours of footage from 192 countries, the filmmakers—most especially editor Joe Walker—crafted a tale from sunrise to sunset with the mundane shown beside the magical, inspirational, and unique. Time-lapse sights of swirling skies juxtapose against religious ceremony, cultural traditions, and even the act of brushing one’s teeth. Life in a Day documents humanity with a discerning eye and an unabashed desire to portray how similar we are despite the separation of language, distance, or environment.

A time capsule unable to be made five years ago due to the steep learning curve in using a video camera and uploading clips to YouTube for submission, there is a little of everything. From general montages of wake-up yawns, breakfast sizzling, or feet touching the floor to start the day to more specific examples of home with the fisheyed ritual of young Tai-Chan honoring his deceased mother or a family using the film as a way to cope with a parent’s return from cancer treatment, it resonates either generally or personally. At one moment you’re watching goats milked and Bryndza cheese made as the next shows a cow stunned, sliced, and made into dinner. Simple acts aren’t always simple subjects and the faint of heart should take note the film isn’t about only portraying the sunny side of mankind.

It starts very light-heartedly with an iPod-listening, alcoholic buzzed gentleman giggling about it being the best day of his life. From there we see the humorous and endearing act of a fifteen-year old’s first shave—complete with father taking the razor for a couple swipes and sharing the trick of Kleenex square bandages—as well as a man on his way to work sharing the view of a Dover six-floor elevator ride in Roanoke on his way to work. Testimonials are shared and the initial questions forming the foundation of the film are answered. An Australian expresses his gratitude after making it through surgery from his hospital bed and Indians buy and sell goods in the chaotic open air market of their home. People of all languages tell us what they love, what’s in their pockets, and what they fear.

Life in a Day works best in its beautiful constructions of quick collage set to gorgeous scores. The sound effects of the footage enter the music as new instruments and the visuals themselves are bolstered by the wordless narration allowing life to literally wash over us without a need for more context than, “this is us”. The fear montage hits the hardest as we watch brutality in Third World countries woven into the accidental trampling deaths of eighteen citizens trying to enjoy happiness at a Love Parade. God is feared, bigotry is expressed, politics overshadow, death occurs, and we see our own doubts repeated by strangers thousands of miles away. It’s a tumultuous exchange of tears and wavering voices with the despair of life’s mortality reminding us how fragile existence is.

The good and the bad are spliced together so we see the glee of a soldier showing his Star Wars tattoos and the bittersweet sadness of a wife video-chatting with her husband at war. Lengthy vignettes like this do add more substance and heart when effective. I love the passages pertaining to Okhwan Yoon biking across the world. A Korean unwilling to share the North or South of it, he has already traveled through 190 countries in nine years. He does it to help unite a fractured nation and inspire the world. Hit six times by cars and needing five surgeries as a result, the lesson learned is merely that careless drivers exist everywhere. The troubles won’t deter his mission and the message he delivers is received, appreciated, and idolized.

Sweet moments like a son filming his father during a meet-up and always showing but never telling that he has garbage trailing from the bottom of his shoe work; the miracles of birth—human and giraffe—are shown uncensored and comically with the brilliant fall of a father fainting behind his camera. A stirring traditional chant from three women pounding what looks like rice provides the background song for a sequence of footage and the simplicity of Africans drinking water from the leaves of trees in a jungle explains how consumed by commercialism and excess we in the First World are. Love is shown complete while the rejection of the same is shared with disappointment. Proposals are accepted, explanations of what makes us special are given, and a surprising level of compassion enhanced by approval or not is highlighted.

Never siding with one form of life over the next, we see skydivers falling, Parkour thieves stealing, and selfish men orating Walt Whitman quotes while their wives beg for a break from watching the kids. Sumptuous in its wealth of humanity by watching so many smiling people of all ages and race can only make you remember how amazing we can be. As fireworks pop and paper lanterns float into the sky at night we understand what Life in a Day is truly about. No matter where we are or where we want to be, life is something to be cherished no matter our monetary wealth. If a little boy no more than ten can ecstatically run home to read the Wikipedia on his laptop after getting paid pennies and candy for a day’s shoe-shining, we should be grateful for what we have too. And if your seventy-year old spouse decides to write your wedding renewal vows himself, don’t let him.

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