It's Such a Beautiful Day
Don Hertzfeldt, 2012
#10, 2012 Skandies

To even talk about the premise of this movie is a bit of a spoiler, since it's clearly supposed to come as a surprise, so bail out now if you're as sensitive to that sort of thing as I am.

So, this is one of the clearest examples I've seen of a "false ceiling" movie.  It begins as a cartoon employing stick figures like XKCD with an overlay of "squigglevision" (like on Dr. Katz) to keep the movie from looking like a still comic strip when the figures aren't moving.  For the first few minutes, it's largely observational comedy, as the narrator relates the minutiae of awkward interactions in a manner that reminded me of The Mezzanine.  But gradually a plot is introduced: our stick-figure protagonist is being treated for a brain tumor, which distorts his experience of the world.  Hertzfeldt conveys this by breaking all of the conventions he's established, splicing in live action and special effects, messing with the sound design in alarming ways, and playing around with the structure of the narrative.

I wrote of The Mezzanine that "it could be one-third as long and still have the same impact, and it does drag after a while", and the same is true of It's Such a Beautiful Day.  Interestingly, it turns out that the movie is in fact a compendium of three shorts, so the basic concept that led to this movie was originally instantiated as a piece one-third as long!  That first short is actually on Youtube, uploaded by the creator… but I do think that the story would work better with a little of the material from the two sequels.  The middle chapter is the weakest, with its descent into absurdist humor, but the "On his way to lunch, Bill smiles" scene is a keeper (and basically encapsulates the project in 25 seconds).  And the last chapter's "Can you tell me who this is? Do you remember her?" scene is a perfect example of how a false ceiling can achieve powerful emotional effects.  (And the scene immediately after that has a perfectly-timed callback in it — I wouldn't want to lose that either.) 

This last point is a total tangent and probably better suited for a minutiae page — in fact, I think I've already talked about this in a few of my minutiae posts — but what the hell.  There's a bit in the last chapter in which the protagonist observes, "It's kind of a really nice day!"  Nice days — by which I mean low humidity, a light breeze of a contrasting temperature (warm if it's cool out, cool if it's warm), and above all, clear skies and sunbeams — have always been important to me.  I left the Seattle area in 2001 in large part because the constant cloud cover was really getting me down.  One of the great things about my apartment in San Leandro was that the shower was perched under a window, so while I was washing up I could look up into brilliant if blurry blue.  (I don't wear my glasses in the shower.)  But for some time now, even minimal exposure to direct sunlight has been giving me awful headaches.  I wear a big hat when I have to go outside in the daytime, but that only raises my window of painless sun exposure from ten seconds to about five minutes.  So yesterday I was pretty hungry in the morning, and I decided that I'd go to the Ferry Building farmers' market and get some chilaquiles.  It was as overcast as Seattle in the winter, and I was able to stroll around the market for a while without my hat, and felt fine.  So much so that when I left the BART station to head home, and saw that the gray blanket overhead still hadn't burned off, it actually cheered me up in the same way that blue skies used to.  I looked around at the gloomy parking lot, and thought, in all sincerity, wow! It's kind of a really nice day!

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