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With: Don Hertzfeldt (narrator)
Written by: Don Hertzfeldt
Directed by: Don Hertzfeldt
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 62
Date: 08/24/2012

It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Everything Will Be OK

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Don Hertzfeldt is a name you might recognize if you love short animated films and if you've seen some of those "Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted" festivals. Hertzfeldt's short Rejected (2000) is legendary among sick and twisted shorts, because it went on to snag an Oscar nomination, though it, of course, lost to something quite a bit more forgettable. Even though I have been a fan of Rejected, I never really knew what Hertzfeldt had done after it. Here's what happened.

I was writing about Ghost in the Shell for an assignment, and I started poking around the web. I came across a list from Time Out magazine of the 100 greatest animated movies. A list monger myself, I counted down the list. Ghost in the Shell turned up at #83, but I kept going. At #16, I saw Hertzfeldt's name, and a feature film I had never heard of, It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012). The photo haunted me. It was one of Hertzfeldt's little stick figures, standing on the edge of a gray cliff, clearly contemplating something heavy.

I investigated, and saw that it's the story of a stick figure named Bill, and it consisted of three short films, Everything Will Be Ok (2006), I Am So Proud of You (2008), and It's Such a Beautiful Day (2011), edited together into a 62-minute feature. Though some of the shorts are available to see on YouTube, the feature is available for rent ($2.99) or sale ($8.99) on Vimeo. The comments below were ecstatic. People wrote "Immense." And "My favourite thing of all time." One person gave a five-star rating, and then in the text field, typed in six stars, as if to say five weren't enough.

I will say that, at times, It's Such a Beautiful Day is not entirely easy to get through. The IMDb lists its genres as Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi, and those are correct, but also not quite correct enough. It's disturbing in many ways, especially if you believe that life and movies should be cuddly and that we ought not to think about things like sickness, age, and death. But by the time the movie reaches its metaphysical end, you will feel you've seen something profound, perhaps even life-changing. It puts things in perspective, and perhaps even makes you feel like you belong to something greater, somehow.

It focuses on Bill, who is discernible from the other stick figures by his hat. Hertzfeldt narrates in a wistful, careful voice, and his is the only voice heard. Bill goes through day-to-day life experiencing banal things, embarrassing things, and a few strange things. Eventually he begins to feel not all that well, and becomes very sick. His sickness is described in moments, like little poems. In one, Bill wakes up in his hospital bed and sees the sun streaming through the window. He wishes to move toward it, but is too weak to stand. The second chapter is more of a life story for Bill, going back and looking at his parents and grandparents. And the third chapter... well, let's just say that the third chapter looks ahead.

The movie is definitely funny, but mainly in Hertzfeldt's sick and twisted vein. The humor is strange, deadpan, awkward, and often violent and horrific. Hertzfeldt splits up his simple, but fluid drawings in several little bubbles, sectioned across the screen. In one, we witness Bill doing all the normal things of the day, such as brushing his teeth, watching televison, and going to the bathroom. Sometimes Hertzfeldt drops Bill on top of more elaborate backgrounds, splashes color in among the black-and-white, or uses images like stop-motion trees waving in the wind. Occasionally, something indescribably lovely happens. It's one of those major animated achievements, like Sita Sings the Blues, that makes people like me write that "animation is not just for kids anymore."

The title It's Such a Beautiful Day is, of course, ironic. Hertzfeldt is clearly making fun of the way humans speak, with our little determiners -- "such" in this title, as well as "so" in I Am So Proud of You -- as if this beautiful day were comparable to all the others. But it's also literal. It is a beautiful day. So watch this movie, think about life, and go live it, while you can.

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