It is with the greatest embarrassment that I must admit that despite reviewing and writing about animation for almost eight years now I had never heard of Don Hertzfeldt. I know, I know. That’s like saying you’re really into rock music and never having heard of The Common Sense. It’s like putting yourself out there as an expert on Renaissance painting and knowing nothing about Vincentio.
For crying out loud, it’s like saying you’re obsessed with American history and not knowing about William Batholomew Brockholst.
Hertzfeldt is one of those guys who makes you go “oh, this fucking guy”.
At 18, he single-handedly animated and scored Ah, L’Amour which won the Grand Prize Award for “World’s Funniest Cartoon” at the HBO Comedy Awards. This launched him into a career where he basically became the indie-animation Pixar, except he’s not an animation studio, he’s just one dude and if anything he’s gotten more critical acclaim and he never made Cars. He’s been nominated for an Oscar twice but never actually won so you know he’s not a sellout. And his films have frequently been named as the greatest animated films of the year, decade or all time. He also looks younger than me despite being six years older and he probably does yoga.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day is actually three of Hertzfeldt’s short films strung together (seems kinda lazy to me, but what do I know?): Everything Will be Okay, I am so Proud of You and It’s Such a Beautiful Day. Despite being made over several years, the three films integrate seamlessly into a flawless whole because of course they fucking do.
Part 1: Everything Will be Okay
You might be forgiven, upon first seeing the animation for exclaiming “are you fucking kidding me?” In terms of character design, the animation is extremely simple. Borderline juvenile. But it’s a deceptive simplicity. Although little more than stick figures, Hertzfeldt’s characters move with an extraordinary grace and fluidity, and he manages to wrench incredible expressiveness and pathos out of their little sparse features. Our hero is Bill, an utterly anonymous little man in a hat noteable only for his striking resemblance to a certain well known internet computer game reviewer.
The narrator (Hertzfeldt) narrates as Bill goes through his humdrum day, recounting awkward little half-formed coversations he has with people him, describing the TV he watches and the snacks he eats and the mental tangents his mind goes off on. Bill, we gather, is not well. He’s attending a clinic and is suffering memory loss. Things start getting weirder and weirder until he notices that a guy at the bus-stop has a cow’s head.
Bill’s doctor prescribes him some new medication and then the narration breaks down and the movie goes proper bug-nuts Twin Peaks crazy pants for a few seconds.
After his episode, Bill’s mother comes to look after him. They spend their days watching TV and doing jigsaw puzzles. One day, she sees a loose thread on his collar and goes to cut it with a scissors which causes Bill to freak out and smack them out of her hand. Bill’s mother tearfully asks him how he could ever think she would want to hurt him and he doesn’t say “because from my perspective you suddenly lunged at my neck with a bladed weapon apropos of nothing” but I get the impression that we’re supposed to think Bill’s the asshole here.
Bill gets moved to hospital where his condition rapidly worsens until his doctor tells him that he only has days to live. And then he…doesn’t die.
He recovers, his family have to return the casket they bought at great expense and he has to go back to work.
Part 2: I Am So Proud of You
I Am So Proud of You is where the movie finishes stretching and starts getting properly weird. It opens with a story from Bill’s childhood, describing how his little brother Randall (a special needs child with hooks for arms) ran into the sea and drowned. Following this, Bill’s mother became smotheringly over-protective of him, sending him to school in an overcoat, a baseball helmet and asbestos gloves. Everyday in his lunchbox he would find a note from her; I AM SO PROUD OF YOU.
Back in the present, Bill seems to be recovering from his illness and getting on with his drab little squib of a life. We get a scene of him wordlessly watching a man using a leaf blower that lasts almost a full minute and obviously I don’t need to explain to you what that signifies.
We know come to my favourite part of the film, where the narrator described Bill’s family and shows that he came by his mental problems honestly. We meet his grandmother who suffered from tumours and kept dead cat heads in her drawer because rubbing them on her forehead soothed her head-aches, his great-grandfather who once strangled a rock in a fit of religious excitement and died when he was hit by a train and his grand-uncle who became a preacher and grew his mole-hairs long to purify his soul. And who died when he was hit by a train.
Back in the present, Bill receives a phonecall informing him that his mother had died after failing to take her medication. And being hit by a train (must be hereditary).
Going through his mother’s effects, he finds a doctor’s report advising her to never have children.
He also finds pages and pages of the sentence I AM SO PROUD OF YOU, which his mother used to practice to get her handwriting as nice as possible for him.
Bill suffers a seizure and becomes untethered from reality, drifting forward to the moment of his own death many years in the future and back to his early childhood which is rendered as a dreamy montage of ice-cream, fresh grass and city-lights drifting past the back seat window of a car as he drifts away to sleep.
Bill wakes up in hospital. His ex-girlfriend comes to visit him and they have ice-cream. It’s the happiest he can remember being.
Part 3: It’s Such a Beautiful Day
The movie starts to level with us. The simplistic animation style is how Bill’s brain is rendering a world that it can barely understand anymore. We see flashes of old memories rendered with live action footage. Bill’s doctor explains that his memories of his weird ass relatives are his brain trying to rationalise his existence by creating a family history for him to replace the memories that he’s lost. He’s discharged from hospital while he awaits test results and returns home to find that someone has left groceries on his kitchen table, which he interprets as the work as a kindly neighbour. He becomes trapped in a Groundhog Day-esque loop of going out for a walk, coming home and deciding to go out for a walk. Bags of groceries start piling up on his kitchen counter as he keeps forgetting that he’s already done his shopping. There was no kindly neighbour.
Bill’s doctor tells him that he’s only got days to live, and apparently means it this time. Faces with his impending death, Bill’s eyes are opened to the beauty of the everyday world (“his bathmat is GORGEOUS”). He rents a car and goes driving to wherever instinct tells him and finishes up at his childhood home, where a neighbour tells him where he can find his father, who he hasn’t seen since he was a child. He goes and visits his father in a rest home, even though his father is now senile and neither he nor Bill can remember why they’re there or who the other man is.
Bill drives he comes to a field near a forest and is about to die when the narrator takes pity on him and instead crafts a story where Bill becomes immortals, learns every language, fathers a billion children, lives to see humanity pass from the Earth, makes friends with alien creatures of light who revere him as a god until finally he sees the last stars go black at the end of the universe.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day is a very good film and one I enjoyed quite a bit, but I can’t say I had the same rapturous, life-changing response to it that many people have experienced. Say you hate Westerns. You might see something like Unforgiven or True Grit or The Searchers or some other masterpiece of the genre and be able to say “that’s a damn good film”, but it’ll probably never be your favourite film because you fundamentally just don’t jive with the genre. Well, It’s Such a Beautiful Day is an arty, rambling, navel-gazing, philosophical examination on the nature of existence and I cannot abide that kind of film, either because I’m brilliant enough to see through it as the pretentious folderol that it is, or I’m a basic bitch. Take your pick. It’s Such a Beautiful Day is about as good a version of that type of film as you’re going to get. For all its simplicity, the animation is gorgeous, the choices of music are inspired and it’s often very funny and frequently insightful. But ultimately, it’s just not my thing.
NEXT UPDATE: 16 April 2020
NEXT TIME: Hey, Corona Virus ain’t all bad. Look who’s streaming early…
Back to the canon. From what I have heard I expect Mouse to hate Frozen 2.
I used to be a frequent bus rider and a cow head would blend in like Marcus Brody in Egypt. Fun times as long as I was away from the music people.
Nah I doubt he’ll hate it, he’ll like it more than the Wreck it Ralph sequel at least. But we’ll never know
Clearly you haven’t watched Frozen 2 yet if you’re saying “well at least corona gave us this”! Also this is one of the movies I’ve been meaning to watch but have yet to get around to.
Or perhaps I’m simply playing coy. DAMN coy.
One day I just won’t watch something that I KNOW is gonna bum me out for days- oh shit! The new season of BoJack Horseman!
No! Come back!
I dearly hope you and your family will keep being fine. Please take good care of yourselves, and God bless you.
I like this movie a lot, but I’m with you in declaring it to be “not my thing”. Hertzfeldt’s “Rejected” still gets a smile out of me though, no matter how many times I see it.
I gotta get around to watching this. I think Bill and I have a fairly similar family history.
Hey, if you don’t mind me asking: what streaming services are you using at any given time?
See, I’m trying to think up ideas for Patreon requests. And whereas normally I have no qualms about requesting any weird, obscure-ass film that pops off the top of my head (sorta like this one here), we’re currently in the early stages of one of the worst health and economic crises known to humanity, so I don’t feel super comfortable about putting an expectation on you that you gotta dig up some DVD from God-knows-where under the current conditions. I’d prefer to run my ideas through JustWatch to see if you have easy access to it, at least until things get better.
So I have access to Netflix, Disney + and YouTube. I also have a shit ton of DVDs. Ask and if I can I can. Honestly by the time I get to it this will all be over (the pandemic, not the world).
Another great review. Really looking forward to your next review. I have thoughts on Disney’s Avatar.
As a History Major, I am obliged to mention that A. William Bartholomew Brockholst is not a real person and B. That’s a photo of a random Welsh man.
Never saw this, never even heard of this. But something about a little story that explores people with mental illnesses (even if used in running gags about being hit by trains) or non-neurotypical mindsets just hits me to my core.
The inherent loneliness that can follow people who just weren’t wired “the right way” or whose family has the misfortune of developing mental illnesses really hits close to me. Losing your family is tragic, losing your memory is tragic, losing both? That’s hardcore.
So thank you for the review Mouse, one more thing to check out.
I’ve never seen this short, and this kind of work is not my thing either. But I have an urge to watch it just because the idea of a mother practicing her handwriting so that her simply message would be as pretty as possible is beautiful. I’ll definitely check it out. Thanks for the review.
It’s definitely worth a look.
Sweet, can’t wait to see the latest entry in your denial that Frozen is an overrated, garbage franchise. xD
Oh, and this Beautiful Day thing seems interesting too. Suppose I’ll check it out.
Oh ho, this one has spirit.
Hey Mouse, love your blog. Got a question, what do you think of Rango?
Oh, i would love to see you tackle it. Is it in your pipeline of reviews to come?
You know, I don’t think it is?
You are doing Frozen II already! I was not prepared. I hope you love it, there has been mixed responses I have seen that are either love or hate or this movie didn’t do anything. I wonder what you feel about the colonialism discovery plot type after you loved it in Ragnarok. Some have said Arendale ought to have been destroyed but I don’t really agree since it gave Elsa her moment to shine and showed her powers are good after the last film (she would have been terrible Queen after the events of the last movie her advice here caused the town to be destroyed). And there is a consequences in the film, they just don’t have to be terrible to be so. But I guess I would have preferred Olaf dead or without memories or a new showman who isn’t Olaf in his place (like Groot, you can decide if the second or third description fits Groot better).
In general this film is exactly my cup of tea but I kind of get it if people wanted bigger change. But I don’t get the hate. I mean I was among those who thought Disney ought not to do sequels (this was announced before Ralph) but it was going to he made I wasn’t evaluating if it had a right to exist.
Huh. I kept getting flashbacks to “Salad Fingers” during your review, except this seems less creepy and much more artistic.
So, for “Frozen 2,” are you going to be using your regular Disney scoring or your Disney sequel scoring? (I’m guessing the former because it’s not a Direct To Video, and “Rescuers Down Under” got the regular scoring.)
Oh no, it may be a sequel but it’s still canon.
Dear Mouse, I hope that the House of Mouse and all who sail in her are doing well in the midst of present besetting problems; may the Quarantinis taste like the promise of Paradise delivered upon and may you & yours keep hale & well throughout!
(Also, this film sounds like the sort of eminently worthy labour-of-love study of a Major Social Issue in Art film form that I avoid in the same way that I avoid exhibitions by artist who think that pickling the cross-sections of a dismembered shark is Popular Entertainment; I love Art but the avant garde tends to leave me feeling downright stuffy).
My English teacher played this movie in class for us last year. I was not impressed, to be honest. The film felt far too abstract and surreal for me to get into, and it just felt largely pretentious. But I get the feeling Don Hertzfeldt’s style just isn’t for me, and I would be willing to watch it again to try following the plot more carefully. Some lines were funny or clever, but it didn’t feel like there was much of a concrete plot to hang onto.