I have to admit that my schmaltz detector was blinking red when I heard the premise of the documentary "Life in a Day." Filmmakers Tony and Ridley Scott solicited people around the world to shoot footage of their lives on a single day, July 24, 2010, and post it on YouTube.
Together with director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland"), the 4,500 hours of crowd-sourced footage was distilled into a 90-minute film. It seems like the result could have degenerated into a feature-length AT&T commercial, full of sentiment about how the world is connected. Or it could have been the world's longest cat video.
What a pleasant surprise, then, how enjoyable and genuinely life-affirming "Life in a Day" turned out to be. The many windows into different lives, capturing moments humorous and sad, ordinary and momentous, build into quite a moving film.
The range of experience shown is as wide as the human experience. We see montages of people doing the routine things - waking up, eating, going to work - around the globe. It must have been a momentous task to edit all the footage together into something not only coherent but meaningful, but "Life in a Day" never feels disjointed or random. It helps that Macdonald organizes sections of the movie around certain themes, asking participants to film what they love the most in life, or what they fear.
Those sections help build an emotional and visceral rhythm, as one moment disappears and the next appears. While some footage is diced into rapid-fire montages (like a memorable "using the bathroom" montage), other vignettes move to the forefront and are given more time.
We meet a mom who is dealing with both a rambunctious son and the news that her cancer has returned. And a Chicago man documenting his attempt to reveal his romantic feelings for a close female friend. And, sickeningly, footage of a German music festival where a large crowd gets trapped inside an overcrowded tunnel, leading to 21 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Putting such large-scale tragedies next to small-scale triumphs, or even moments that aren't positive or negative but just are snapshots of ordinary life, makes "Life in a Day" a resonant cinematic time capsule. After seeing it, the earth feels just a bit smaller.