I’m a sucker for those slice-of-real-life viral videos where we see a Good Samaritan helping a homeless man on the subway or a military parent surprising the kids at a school pageant or a creative wedding proposal or a dog and its human engaging in some hilarious hijinks. I bet you are as well — and if so, you’ll most likely enjoy the time capsule documentary “Life in a Day 2020,” a compilation of hundreds of amateur video clips shot in a single day from contributors all over the globe.
In 2011, director Kevin Macdonald and executive producer Ridley Scott combined forces for the crowd-sourced YouTube docu-project “Life in a Day,” a series of clips culled from some 80,000 submissions from around the world, and they’ve reteamed for this spiritual sequel, which looks slicker and more sophisticated than the original, thanks in large part to improvements in smartphone cameras and the increasingly common use of amateur-piloted drones. Everybody’s a Spielberg these days, or at least a wannabe Spielberg.
This time around, Macdonald and his team had the daunting task of selecting clips from some 324,000 videos from (unpaid) contributors in 192 countries. The result is a tightly packaged, 87-minute, wholly predictable yet undeniably effective montage of individuals from all walks of life going about their daily business on July 25, 2020 — when the world was in the grips of a pandemic, and the summer of Black Lives Matter was simultaneously inspiring and roiling America. The spread of COVID-19 and the social movement are addressed in some of the home videos, but “Life in a Day 2020” is primarily about people waking up, going about their chores, cooking their meals, interacting with family members, confiding to the camera about life and love, welcoming babies, attending weddings, paying their respects at funerals, worshiping their gods.
Some vignettes are more compelling than others. God bless the Illinois railroad nerd who is on a quest to spot seven types of trains in a single day, but it’s hard to care less about that. On the other end of the spectrum, there are small moments of heartbreak, as when a young Japanese woman who is cooking dinner for her boyfriend (who is filming her) turns to him and says their relationship has reached its end. In the most devastating clip, a mom points her camera at the TV as it shows a scene from the first “Life in a Day” movie in which she rousts her teenage son from sleep and he groggily greets the day. She then pans left and says she wants to show us her son now — and we see an urn and a small shrine, as she explains he died at 24 from COVID.
Mostly, though, “Life in a Day 2020” is an affirmation of life, of the simple joys experienced by citizens of the planet over the course of a single day. We’d never have met any of them without this film, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to get to know them a little bit.