by Ken B.
Don Hertzfeldt has created a brilliant cacophony of layered sounds and images, using hand-drawn stick figure animations, deadpan narration, and screeching sound effects, to create an existential and endearingly sardonic 62 minute three-part project entitled It’s Such a Beautiful Day. And I don’t say this lightly, but it’s an absolute masterpiece. Sometimes it’s a beautiful display of color and emotion, and other times, it’s a frantic, earsplittingly loud clanging mixture of just about everything stacked on top of each other, rolling around, cranked up to eleven, all going at once. But whatever’s happening, it’s all great. Hertzfeldt stands somewhere between potshot and analysis in the themes of his film, which include life, death, illness, family, culture, history, art, and depression. It’s all done in a signature, unmistakable wackiness and surrealistic drive, but everything’s there for a reason – nothing feels superfluous or a needlessly showy act of navel-gazing.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day defies categorization. One of the first thoughts that went through my head after finishing the movie was how difficult it was going to be to write out a summary of it. There is a main character – the fortysomething, sickly, and moody stick-figure Bill – but what happens to him is kind of difficult to describe, besides a process by which he looks at his life, his ancestry, and his future. There’s little, if any, spoken dialogue, but Hertzfeldt narrates everything in a kind of steady, sarcastic, and introspective way, somewhere between mocking Bill’s situation and feeling sorry for him. Everything takes place in a wiggly, hand-drawn world, with characters sometimes superimposed over live-action videos or pictures, and Hertzfeldt creatively plays with filters and lighting over the entire frame. At its core is a genuine message, snaked into existence throughout the energetic and ever-creative landscape forming, shaped continuously and unpredictably throughout the entire runtime.
I feel as if I’ve been a bit opaque over the course of this review so far, and that’s happening for a couple of reasons – 1) I don’t want to spoil the rich pleasures and surprises that It’s Such a Beautiful Day carries and unravels, and 2) It’s really hard to accurately describe just about anything regarding this movie. Even the one-minute trailer, using actual imagery from the film itself, can’t properly convey what the full product involves. For an idea of what kind of humor is at play, note that at the time of this writing, in the Academy Award-nominated Hertzfeldt’s Twitter bio, he refers to himself as an “Oscar loser”. Everything is mortal without being downright gloomy, acidic without being a total turnoff. “Quirky” could serve as some kind of descriptor, but it’s not terribly substantive or representative of the whole visible spectrum here.
Some people will be undoubtedly underwhelmed, confused, or maddened by this movie. It’s not easy to digest, and it deems the idea of explanation absolutely unnecessary. But I would argue that for me, that is a stroke of artistic genius. By introducing a groove that remains constant, yet managing to play with nearly every aspect therein, It’s Such a Beautiful Day keeps things fresh without changing its vibe or underlying intent. That’s a hard thing to do, especially in the field of surrealism, but Hertzfeldt pulls it off with almost uncanny ease. As a result, even when the film is at its most manic, wheezing and igniting with frenzy, it’s never truly out of order, and it never does things for the sake of doing then, despite the difficulty that comes with keeping an oft-abstract piece under some guise of internal consistency and control.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day is just… phenomenal. It’s one of those things that leaves you in a state of inarticulate stammering, going back over the same set of adjectives over and over again (granted, very bad films can do that as well). When you write about movies, sometimes it feels like you can get into a rut, penning critiques of things that feel awfully similar to something you’re pretty sure you just saw a couple of weeks ago. But here, Don Hertzfeldt creates something so original, so vocal, so unique, and so outwardly fantastic, that it feels like a privilege to write about even though, again, it’s kind of impossible to accurately describe. So instead of further attempting such an act, I’ll just tell you to watch it. Even if you end up disliking it, you won’t be able to deny you saw something remarkably different and new.
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