YouTube film review: Life in a Day 2020
Ivan Radford | On 06, Feb 2021
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Watch Life in a Day 2020 online in the UK: YouTube
“A lot can happen in a day,” director Kevin Macdonald tells us in Life in a Day 2020. He ain’t kidding – the past year has seen lives disrupted to an unparalleled degree, thanks to a deadly coronavirus pandemic, not to mention Black Lives Matter marches, varying national and regional lockdowns and political tensions and unrest. The idea of a film replaying all of those things, then, isn’t the most enticing thing just a month into 2021, a year in which people are hoping for a returning to normality – or, at least, something more normal the past 12 months.
The movie, though, is inspired more by Life in Day, Macdonald’s documentary from the now-quaint year of 2011. The premise of that documentary, too, feels somewhat antiquated – a collage of short video clips recorded and contribute by people from around the world. In an age of TikTok and Instagram Reels – let alone YouTube – those kind of snapshots of everyday life are commonplace, with a simple scroll through social media providing an overview of life in all its sad, funny and mundane profundity.
Life in a Day, then, has its work cut out to stand out from the digital crowd. There are moments that do stay with you, from glimpses of vaccine tests and medical workers in hazmat suits to people participating in Black Lives Matter protests. One moment in which a mother learns her son has died has particular impact, while another in which a marriage proposal is reflect is as poignant as it surprising. But these are fleeting glimpses in a sea of faces that are all too brief.
The movie makes up for lack of depth with scale: more than 320,000 videos were submitted from 192 countries worldwide, and Macdonald and producer Ridley Scott do a decent job of ensuring variety and echoed across the globe, from babies being born to agricultural workers planting seeds. But they only leave you wanting to learn more about each individual story in a way that’s more frustrating than fascinating – particularly when a surprisingly large amount of screen time is given over a man chasing trains on all the Class 1 railroads. Whether the film will stand up in a decade and serve as a time capsule for what 2020 is yet to be seen, but in 2021, it’s not just a question of too soon but not interesting enough.