2012 – A hat-wearing stick figure named Bill contemplates his life in the sometimes-beautiful, oftentimes-nightmarish world of his own failing memory.
That plot summary may not be accurate. The movie may be about something else entirely, or it may be about nothing. Think of it as the most depressing episode of Seinfeld you’ve ever seen, with no Jerry, Kramer, or Elaine. It’s just George, trapped in his own private world of insecurity, depression, and minutiae, striving to rise above the stale miasma of everyday life but lacking the insight and temerity to do it.
There’s a story being told here (Bill may be dying from some unspecified illness), but it’s told out of order and meanders down various unrelated tangents. We see most of the action through asymmetric holes cut out of the encroaching darkness. The images range from stark and simple, to beautiful, to horrifying. I don’t know what the technical term is, but I like to think of this animation style as “squiggly, like Dr. Katz.”
Despite the crudity of the images, some of them become unexpectedly beautiful. In one scene, when Bill receives a bad diagnoses, he removes his trademark hat and slowly runs a hand over his head. It’s heartbreaking.
Writer, director, and animator Don Hertzfeldt mixes humor, horror, pathos, and hope in fairly equal measure, although the story has a tendency to veer into the grotesque and the bizarre.
As the narrative slowly winds its way along, we discover that Bill’s memory is starting to fail him, and some of the things we’ve seen (including flashbacks to Bill’s childhood) may never have actually happened. There’s a lot of musing about the nature of time (“The passing of time is just an illusion, because all of eternity is taking place all at once“), life, and death (“Each cell in the body replaces itself and dies as the years pass“). You become convinced that it means something.
You have no idea what that “something” is.
Yes, it’s one of those movies: the kind that’s kinda quirky, funny, and depressing, but that ultimately leaves you with the suspicion that even the creator didn’t know what the hell he was going for. Kinda like a Wes Anderson movie.
As a long-time stick figure fan, I give It’s Such A Beautiful Day credit for the way it makes us care for poor Bill. For most viewers, however, it’ll seem too bizarre and disjointed to be regarded as anything more than a deep Netflix curiosity.