Life in a Day
Release Date: July 24, 2011
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Stars: Cindy Baer, Moica and David Jacques
MPAA Rating: Unrated
What did you do on July 24, 2010?
Chances are you don’t even remember. For most of us, it was simply another day. We all just went about our lives as usual. And that’s what director Kevin MacDonald and producer Ridley Scott are hoping to capture in Life in a Day – the mundaneness of everyday life that binds us all together.
To make Life in a Day, they turned to the YouTube community and asked members to upload videos shot on July 24, 2010 chronicling their lives. They received 80,000 clips (4,500 hours of footage) shot in 192 different countries, which was edited down to a 90-minute film. It’s a really clever idea and one that is executed quite well.
The risk of simply asking people to submit homemade footage is that the movie could easily end up feeling like an endless string of boring home movies. Yet somehow, that’s not at all the case. Instead, Life in a Day is a strangely captivating and uplifting film.
A large reason for its success is how well the film is edited together. Wisely, it never lingers on any one YouTube clip for too long, so if you are bored with one scene, it quickly moves on to the next. Also, the sound editing is really fantastic. The music in the film, written by Harry Gregson-Williams, is typically whimsical and upbeat, which helps to give the movie a lively pace. And often times they will let the sound from one scene bleed into the next, which helps ease scene transitions. This trick is used most effectively when a scene featuring three African women singing to pass the time as they work outside is used as background music for the montage that follows it.
The editors make great use of montages throughout the film. There are a few fun ones that show a stream of people performing routine tasks like making breakfast or going to the bathroom. Then there are montages that explore a set theme. The best one is the montage about love, which features a man proposing to his girlfriend, a guy in his 20s coming out to his grandmother over the phone, an elderly couple who have been married for 50 years renewing their vowels and a teenager attempting to be more than “just friends” with the girl he has a crush on.
But while the film is mostly a series of quick vignettes, more screen time is devoted to a select few people with really captivating stories. There is woman battling cancer who spends a quiet day at home with her husband and young son. There is a dad teaching his 15-year-old son how to shave for the first time. There is a young Hispanic boy who shines shoes to earn money. And a Korean man who has spent the last nine years cycling through different parts of the world (he says he has been to 190 countries and has been hit by six different cars). These people, and a few other who are spotlighted (including a young girl named Betsy who ends up tying the whole film together with a really emotional speech delivering in her car during a violent thunderstorm at the very end), end up becoming the heart and soul of Life in a Day.
While the film mostly focuses on the ordinary nature of an average day, there was one big event that the filmmakers had to address – the death of 24 people at the Love Parade in Duisburg, Germany. People were killed during this concert in a violent stampede at one of the entrances. To address this event, the film shows a variety of different handheld footage of the concert – including people who are injured and other concertgoers who were unaware of the tragedy unfolding who continue to dance and party.
While the film takes great care not to really have an agenda, it does briefly touch on the War in Iraq. We see a woman putting on makeup and getting dressed up for a Skype chat with her husband, who is currently deployed, crosscut with an Middle Eastern photographer walking through his village shooting footage in an effort to show Americans that his country isn’t like how it’s typically depicted. Both scenes manage to be powerful and moving without coming across preachy.
In fact, the only part of the film that really stood out as out of place and overly preachy was incredibly graphic and violent footage of a cow being slaughtered. The clip happens abruptly and is incredibly unsettling to watch. In the Q&A session after the film aired at Sundance, MacDonald explained that they included the footage because it would be “hypocritical” not to show it since we consume so much beef in an average day, but I think that’s a weak justification. The scene is also bound to pointlessly upset and alienate a significant percentage of the viewing audience. It’s a needless distraction in an otherwise entertaining and worthwhile film.
Overall, I highly recommend Life in a Day. It’s a great use of modern technology to show us all that we are more connected than we realize and it’s a film that will restore your faith in mankind. So even if you can’t remember what you did on July 24, 2010, make sure to mark July 24, 2011 on your calendar. That’s the day Life in a Day hits theaters nationwide.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.