A father and son document their lives caring for someone they love, who is stricken with cancer. A man steals from a grocery store. An elderly couple, their hair pristine white, finally tie the knot. A young man tells his grandmother via a phone call that he is gay and that he hopes she can come to love his significant other as much as him. A group of women sing as they perform their daily duties. A photographer describes his way of life. People walk, go to work, talk to each other, talk to the camera, as they do in life. Because this is life. Life is extraordinary and life is mundane. And life, no matter from what perspective we examine it, is mesmerizing. And Kevin Macdonald’s film “Life in a Day” is all of that and more.
This is one of the most enthralling, captivating, and magnificent works of art ever produced by human hands. And that is the honest truth, since it was, in deed, created by hundreds of people. Some of them filmmakers, most of them just ordinary Janes and Joes like you and me. Detailing what happened in their lives on July 24, 2010 and submitting their footage to Mr. Macdonald and producer Ridley Scott, they provided the materials for a genuine masterpiece. “Life in a Day” is a masterpiece not because it is artistic or cared for with creative tenderness (even though it is). It’s a masterpiece because it is unabashedly honest and personable. I watched the movie on its live Youtube debut while it was simultaneously screened at the Sundance film festival. And for an hour and thirty-four minutes, I sat there captivated. Nothing could have torn me from my seat. Even though most of what I saw was fairly ordinary, things I could see walking down any street in any town. Paradoxical as it sounds, the mundane is mesmerizing.
In his movie, Mr. Macdonald and his hundreds of co-directors examines human life as fact and with honesty. He reveals the frailties, tenderness, brutality, horrors, and beauty of life in our world all within that short window of an hour and a half. It’s so captivating because it’s all real and these are stories that many of us can identify with, and others we hope never to. That’s when the movie really becomes a tear-jerker. Sometimes there are long stretches of time on particular subjects, other times it’s a montage accompanied by truly wonderful, ear-worm music. There is so much that I want to say about “Life in a Day” but I must restrict myself. Because the movie really has to be seen to be believed. I cannot possibly do this film’s emotional and psychological justice simply by writing about it. All I should (and will) do is tell you my reaction, as I just have. This is one of my most personal reviews and it’s fair because it’s a personal film. It engages the audience more than any documentary could ever do (though I haven’t seen “Shoah” yet) and it leaves us with that utterly profound and beautiful sensation that only a great picture can do. Even though it is very, very simple in a lot of ways. After all, Steven Spielberg once said “Oftentimes the simplest ideas are the best ones.” He was right. Boy, was he right.
“Life in a Day” is a masterpiece.