Life In A Day

Life In A Day


Reviewed by: David Graham

Ridley Scott and Kevin McDonald attempt to take a snapshot of modern life - via internet sensation YouTube. It's an audacious premise, taking the website's crude egalitarian ethic of self-shot snippets - a format that is almost the antithesis of traditional cinema - and attempting to stitch hundreds of them together Frankenstein-style to hopefully create something that is more than the sum of its parts. It's almost critic-proof, and certainly one of the most subjective viewing experiences you'll ever have, but it's also deeply flawed in ways that could easily have been avoided.

July 24th, 2010: a day like any other, except for the fact that two mega-successful and well-respected film-makers wanted people across the Earth to record themselves and their lives. Cherry-picking from 85,000 submissions covering 140 nations - a total of 4,500 hours of material - Life In A Day cycles from morning to night, skipping between cultures and countries to paint a picture of humanity, here and now. The cultural phenomenon that YouTube represents has brought us all together for good and bad; this film attempts to join the dots, exposing both the differences and similarities between societies and individuals worldwide.

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By setting a date and advertising their intentions, the film-makers are inviting all sorts of artifice, often apparent in the behavior of the participants. Some of the activity captured is so trivial as to be irritating, while other moments that may have had a natural charm are marred by unnecessary goofiness. Footage of a teenager's first shave would be bittersweet if it weren't for his father's woefully cringeworthy commentary. Some clips encourage us to laugh at pratfalls and idiocy that are as unconvincing as they are unfunny, approaching the level of inanity with which Jeremy Beadle dominated Saturday night TV for so long. At least those people got paid for their submissions - surely the money this film will no doubt rake in for its backers would be better spent helping with some of the issues it too briefly touches upon.

Interestingly, while much of the film comprises condescendingly sound-tracked montages of themed situations, the sequencing can be disturbingly jarring at times. One brief point-of-view clip shows someone going to great lengths to escort a fly out of their house unharmed - a simple gesture that makes the audience consider their relative place in the scheme of things. At other points, completely unrelated footage is dropped into streams of clips; a shot of bulls being slaughtered in an abattoir mercilessly disrupts one upbeat segment, an admirably risky but ultimately desperate attempt to make a point and shock the audience out of their comfort zone. Surely this would have been more effective sandwiched between the shots of the American berk who goes to his favourite burger dive 3 times daily? If they were serious about employing this tactic, the editors could have developed it further and used it more appropriately. The impressively balanced way the film covers Germany's Love Parade tragedy may be sadly opportunistic, but it's a good example of how the structure of the piece as a whole could have benefited from a little more concentration on individual situations and subjects, rather than just slamming the audience from high to low and back again.

For a film that's supposed to represent all of life all over the globe, it's far too focused on the good ole U.S. of A. The cultural representations of its people are mostly overly obvious - aside from some clips that address gay life and those stricken with disease, it's mostly a very safe, middle class view of the country that dominates the Western world. There's very little attempt to draw attention to their poor, their minorities, their disadvantaged - while inversely, that is mostly what we see in non-English speaking countries. The best sections uncover universal truths, and challenge our preconceptions of ourselves as well as others. Clips of families struggling with bereavement and terminal illness are almost unbearably affecting because they also unflinchingly highlight how dysfunction and domestic chaos will almost always accompany their plight. The little problems we all deal with everyday - an untidy house, kids that won't stop crying - are made trivial when we see how these people also suffer through them and much, much worse.

Perhaps it's an inevitable downside to this cinematic experiment's need to qualify as entertainment, but most of the footage and editing is trying too hard to be heart-warming, compounded by an often unnecessary score defining every mood. Even worse are the obviously staged stretches that completely wreck the film's aesthetic and bring it to the level of the sort of charity commercials that bombard us with harrowing and/or humbling images, shot in paradoxically expensive style. There's no way that goat farmers in Middle Europe would be able to lens their lives in such gleaming fashion; elsewhere, the grimy sub-VHS quality of much of the foreign footage actually adds to its integrity and appeal. It's a shame the film doesn't return to more of its subjects more often; moments where we recognize people from earlier in the film make it more involving, deepening our connection to the players. For the most part though, it's too scatter-shot and too sentimental, about as profound as the message on a Hallmark card.

Many will be drawn in by voyeuristic allure, and YouTube's millions of fans will no doubt be in rapture, but for others this will prove a cynical indulgence. It'll serve as an inoffensive time capsule, the cinematic equivalent of coffee table literature, but it could have been so much more.

Reviewed on: 16 Jun 2011
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Life In A Day packshot
Clips of real life from all around the world as experienced on the 24th of July 2010.
Amazon link

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Starring: Cindy Baer, Moica, David Jacques, Caryn Waechter, Drake Shannon

Year: 2011

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK


Sundance 2011

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