Film Review: It's Such a Beautiful Day

Highly original animated divertissement, filled with surprising depth and humor.

It's Such a Beautiful Day, a trilogy of animated shorts, uses photo/stock-footage manipulation and live-action film, along with animated line drawing, to tell the story of Bill, a career loser's life and death. Eternally wearing a porkpie hat a la that other stoically beleaguered Everyman, Buster Keaton, Bill is a likeable, sensitive soul, awake to visceral everyday sensations such as seeing a discarded woman's tennis shoe on the street, stuffed with leaves, which fills him, as he says, with "an inexplicable sadness."

Bill lives out his largely non-eventful days—sometimes admitting to masturbating for seven hours straight—which are nevertheless fecund with keen observations, until he suddenly falls mysteriously ill, his brain severely affected. That happenstance only heightens his perception of the detail and bizarreness of the world around him.

Creator Don Hertzfeldt has a wry, amusing purview which brings a lot of disarming surprise and likability to this project. The narration is tonally perfect, lightly unstressed and fully serving the concept in a graceful way. (Naturally, one of the protagonist's few friends is an "ex-girlfriend.") There's a droll, Kafkaesque quality in the kinds of interactions Bill has with people he passes along the way or stands with in a supermarket checkout line. (His own mother he describes as always smelling of "baby powder and cheese.") The stick figures Hertzfeldt employs are ultra-simple, but nevertheless have a remarkable expressiveness in his hands. The use of music, which ranges from familiar extracts from Smetana and Wagner to the male duet from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, is extremely canny and at times downright hilarious.

Like so many works in these post-9/11 days of economic/human meltdown, the film becomes a meditation on spirituality. The good thing here is that Hertzfeldt has enough imagination, sincere conviction and strength of vision to avoid easy mawkishness and indeed manages to achieve a kind of transcendence by the end for his hapless scarecrow of a hero, who grows to fully appreciate the preciousness of life, with all of its undeniable sadness and equally undeniable beauty.