Life in a Day

An emotional and problematically assembled feature-length compilation.

(English, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Indonesian/Balinese, Hindi, Italian, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, Creole, Vietnamese, Quechua, German, Masai, Dutch, Catalan, Tajik, Pushto, Umbundu dialogue)

YouTube’s worldwide invitation for contributors to submit personal diary footage on a single day — July 24, 2010 — results in an emotional and problematically assembled feature-length compilation, “Life in a Day.” Though some will view the film, overseen by director Kevin Macdonald and shepherded by Tony and Ridley Scott, as honoring YouTube’s global-village possibilities and democratic ideals, others will criticize the pic as violating YouTube principles of unedited, personal videos that resist feature movie rules. NatGeo is an ideal domestic distrib, sure to nab curious auds during the pic’s July rollout following a YouTube online preem.

In truth, the most important player in the project is editor Joe Walker, who has melded more than 4,500 hours of footage into a surprisingly coherent whole. Pic is structured into two conceptual forms, one wrapped inside the other: Clips are assembled in a chronological form, from post-midnight darkness to daytime and into evening, while certain detectable themes (including the things people love and fear the most) are edited into mini-montages that serve either as bridges between sections or as discrete sections themselves.

Popular on Variety

Both forms are held together, to a distressingly excessive degree, by a score composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and Matthew Herbert that mixes minimalist cliches with songs and cues that sound close to lullabies. Besides intruding on the individual clips, the music tends to overwhelm and homogenize the clips — arguably the opposite of the ideal, unfettered YouTube viewing experience.

The film revels in diurnal pleasures — slowly rising from bed, making breakfast, prepping for the day, working, taking midday naps, domestic squabbling and cuddling, partying and dating (though there’s not a moment of sex in this family-targeted doc). Most daring, for squeamish Western auds at least, are moments of cattle slaughter, while the most exhilarating clip is unquestionably one of a female skydiver in freefall, as shot by her partner via a fish-eye lens camera.

Emotions run thick through “Life in a Day,” with each viewer sure to relate closely to some captured detail (whether it’s domestic clutter or a son’s first shave, among countless others) or stated remark (a husband’s fear of his wife’s recurring cancer, for example, is certain to stir many). The problem with this patchwork quilt is that such moments come and go, almost arbitrarily, while Macdonald’s aesthetic backs away from drawing out any big ideas just as it retreats from a more radical collage approach.

Auds willing to lose themselves in a kind of Internet-style armchair adventure will doubtless be swept up, though more critical eyes will note that the Western world is considerably on greater view in this assemblage than contributions from Latin America, Asia and Africa. Whether this is due to the quality of clips supplied, the filmmakers’ cultural choices and biases, or a combination of these, all will be fodder for conversation. For the record, 21 languages are spoken onscreen.

Life in a Day


Production: A National Geographic Films release of a YouTube/Ridley Scott & Tony Scott presentation of a Scott Free Films production. Produced by Liza Marshall. Executive producers, Scott, Scott. Co-producers, Jack Arbuthnott, Tim Partridge. Directed by Kevin Macdonald, YouTube contributors.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, B&W, DV), YouTube contributors; editor, Joe Walker; music, Harry Gregson-Williams, Matthew Herbert; music supervisor, John Boughtwood; sound (stereo), Glenn Freemantle; sound designer, Tom Sayers; supervising sound editors, Hugo Adams, Freemantle, Ben Barker, Niv Adiri, Mark Heslop; sound re-recording mixers, Ian Tapp, Andrew Caller; visual effects supervisor, Stefan Drury; line producer, Ann Lynch; associate producer, Caroline Gerard; Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 24, 2011. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- Panorama.) Running time: 95 MIN.

Cast: (English, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Indonesian/Balinese, Hindi, Italian, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, Creole, Vietnamese, Quechua, German, Masai, Dutch, Catalan, Tajik, Pushto, Umbundu dialogue)

More Scene

  • 'Little America' Team on Creating Immigration

    'Little America' Team on Creating the Immigration Anthology Series for Apple TV Plus

    Respect and authenticity were the key words at the screening of the new Apple TV Plus series “Little America” on Thursday in Los Angeles. Produced by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon and inspired by true stories featured in Epic Magazine, “Little America” is an anthology series focused on immigration. For executive producer Sian Heder, [...]

  • 2018 Sundance Film Festival - Egyptian

    Sundance 2020: The Ultimate Party Guide

    Heading to Park City? From intimate dinners and cocktail parties to late night bashes (that end just in time to head to brunch), there’s plenty to keep this year’s film festival attendees out of the cold between screenings. Here is Variety’s ultimate party guide for Sundance 2020:  Popular on Variety Thursday, Jan. 23 “Summertime” Premiere Party [...]


    Jenna Andrews Hosts Zhavia Ward, Lennon Stella at Jed Foundation Fundraiser

    Jenna Andrews, the Canadian singer-songwriter, record producer and executive, hosted a pre-Grammy event in partnership with The Jed Foundation at Alice and Olivia in West Hollywood on Tuesday.  The non-profit Jed is dedicated to protecting emotional health and preventing suicide. The foundation has partnered with high schools and colleges in order to “strengthen mental health, [...]

  • Coldplay - Chris Martin

    Grammys 2020: The Ultimate Party Guide

    Let the music play, indeed. The Grammys are just days away and dozens of parties are happening every night this week leading up to the big day, Sunday, Jan. 26. And the partying continues with several bashes following the ceremony. (All events listed are by invitation only unless marked otherwise; this list is being updated [...]

  • Jared Harris arrives at the 26th

    No, Jared Harris is Not Playing Doctor Octopus in Marvel's 'Morbius'

    The first-ever trailer for Marvel and Sony’s next Spider-man spinoff “Morbius” left comic book fans reeling with theories. While the plight of the main character, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) – a scientist dying of a rare blood disease who accidentally turns himself into a vampire – seemed ripped right out of the comics, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content