Director Kevin Macdonald has taken the sort of inane narcissism that reality television perpetuates and turned it into an exploration of universality with the clever and collaborative project "Life in a Day."
This fluidly paced documentary consists of video that regular folks from around the world shot on a single day — July 24, 2010 — then uploaded to YouTube. After more than 80,000 submissions totaling about 4,500 hours from 192 countries, this is the entertaining result.
Yes, it's a small world after all — everyone gets out of bed in the morning, everyone eats breakfast, everyone drinks coffee, etc. Much like last year's "Babies," "Life in a Day" conveys the pretty obvious sentiment that maybe we're not so different from each other.
It's the small details that make this film compelling, and the massive effort it took to craft it: A team of researchers spent months watching and categorizing clips for possible inclusion by Macdonald (the Oscar-winning "One Day in September," "The Last King of Scotland") and veteran editor Joe Walker, who clearly did yeoman's work in making it all flow together seamlessly as a cohesive whole. A series of posed questions that several people answer, including "What's in your pocket?" and "What do you love," provides some structure.
Much of the video is of the quality you might expect: grainy, hand-held, out-of-focus, shot in the bathroom mirror while someone's shaving or brushing their teeth. But other clips are startling in their sophistication and artistry, such as the shots of a night sky being lit up by flashes of lightning toward the film's conclusion.
Many of the moments captured matter to no one but the people who are their focus: the couple getting married by an Elvis impersonator, or a skydiver tumbling through the clouds. But there was also tragedy on July 24, 2010, when 21 people were crushed to death in a stampede at the Love Parade techno music festival in Germany.
And even though no one's uniformly introduced by name or country, certain stories emerge that make you wish you could see more. Among them: an American mother with cancer who's recovering from surgery, a photographer in Afghanistan, and a Russian, tattooed, shoplifting Parkour expert who could be the star of his own action picture.
So maybe some of what we're seeing was staged. Maybe not all the footage captured here is the random stuff of our mundane existence. Still, "Life in a Day" is so intimate and ultimately optimistic, it'll leave you with the inescapable feeling that you've just made hundreds of new friends you've never actually met.
"Life in a Day," a National Geographic Entertainment release, is rated PG-13 for disturbing, violent images, language and a sexual reference. 90 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.