‘Life in a Day 2020’ review: A video diary of a difficult year
By Chris Azzopardi
Will we ever fully be ready to remember 2020? The masks. The quarantines. Racial injustice. So much death.
Assembled from video footage shot by people from around the world on July 25 of last year, “Life in a Day” is a well-meaning but unnecessary crowdsourced documentary, a companion piece to a 2011 version of the same name, that thinks we’re ready.
The film gets off to an obvious start: with a symphony of child birth. Mostly, though, the breezy snippets capture everyday mundanities that encompass a vast range of human experiences and multicultural behavior, juxtaposing beauty and darkness, birth and death. It’s a call for empathy with some genuinely moving moments. What this video portrait doesn’t do is focus enough on its subjects to allow for any true investment in their lives.
Although participants’ experiences are singular, their clips are cut together into montages to create a sense of pandemic-era interrelational connection. A few subjects get extended screen time, their narratives stitched throughout this patchwork of life. The result is a tediously formatted stream of categorized segments that might as well fall into hashtagged classifications: Environmental Conservation, Zoom Life, Class of 2020, Love Is Love and You Weren’t the Only One Cooking All the Time.
The film indicates that director Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”) and producer Ridley Scott received 324,000 videos submitted from 192 countries for this project. That’s a lot of videos. And yet, amid Black Lives Matter marches and medical workers in hazmat suits, the filmmakers devote considerable time to a man who drives around chasing trains on all seven Class 1 railroads. Spoiler alert — he succeeds at whatever he’s trying to achieve (the film assumes you understand why this is an accomplishment). And, honestly, good for that guy. I know his pursuit is meant to be a quaint respite. But over and over in a film about 2020? When a young Black woman is only briefly shown lamenting the death of two of her brothers who died while in police custody? I want her story.
“Life in a Day” seeks to be a time capsule during a period of great racial divide and pandemic distress. But since the time it’s memorializing is still fresh, the film arrives about 10 years too soon. As it stands, it hasn’t captured anything that 90 minutes of TikTok surfing can’t.