Best Day Ever: Aiden Kesler 1994-2011
(Canada, 83 min.)
Dir. Mike Coleman, Eric Johnson.
Back in 1986, Ferris Bueller took a day off. He showed off his youthful lust for life by skipping school and convincing his friends to join him in a game of hooky. They spent the day looking at fine art, dancing in the street, and eating pancreas instead of being bogged down by teachers, books, and dirty looks. Ferris enjoyed the day, knowing that life moves pretty fast and that you should live each day in the moment because you never know what can happen next. What Ferris didn’t know, however, was that his “best day ever” could have been one of his last.
“We would like to thank the friends and family of Aiden Kesler for sharing these moments. Aiden Kesler ‘1994-2011’.” So reads the title card that opens Best Day Ever. Although the title and intertitle hint at what to expect, Best Day Ever often surprises. Best Day Ever offers the “found footage” of Aiden Kesler. With its shaky handheld camera and rowdy protagonist, the result is something like a cross of Cloverfield and Ferris Bueller, with a healthy dose of Borat to make one ponder on the reality of it all. Not quite a drama, but not quite a documentary, either, Best Day Ever is a fresh invention of the digital age.
We meet Aiden Kesler as he stands before a mirror in his boxer shorts. A product of a generation forever defining itself through a viewfinder, Aiden films himself on his handheld camcorder and explains that he will not be going in to school today. He also reveals that he has acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which has a survival rate of 85% for children and 50% for adults. Aiden himself is seventeen-years-old. His chances are therefore a step above 50/50, but still undesirable for such a young age.
After sharing the diagnosis, Aiden then farts on his sister and steals the keys for his brother’s car. His “best day ever” begins.
Aiden recruits his friends Reese, Melissa, and “Donkey.” They spend the day doing all the crazy things that kids do, like playing ‘Toss the Coke bottle’ or sneaking a few sips of tequila. At times, however, it’s a bit alarming how much the teens, especially Aiden, have fun at the expense of others. For example, the group plays a rousing game in which each of them takes a turn jumping atop the back of an unsuspecting stranger. Life works itself out though, and one or two of the kids end up with a bloody nose. However, one sees Aiden’s struggle to handle his frustration over his lingering mortality: someone this young should not have to cope with such a potential death sentence. Aiden seems to realize this, opting to keep the secret from his friends even though the day is scheduled to end with a trip to the hospital.
In addition to dramatizing Aiden’s teen angst, the spontaneous shenanigans reveal another facet of Best Day Ever. As Aiden and Melissa hold a trip-wire across a park trail, the wanderers on the path observe them curiously, yet their faces are obscured by post-production blurs. Much with the antics of Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, the pranks of Aiden Kesler solicit candid-camera reactions from their participants. The film hints at its unscripted snapshot-of-life style within the first few minutes: after Aiden picks up Reese and they phone the others, Aiden videotapes his friend. A woman walks by the car and does a double take. The passerby then sasses out the two boys, yelling something only partially intelligible along the line of, “I see what you’re doing in there!”
The potential authenticity of the film adds an intriguing dynamic. Although the found footage format has been done before in films like Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project, the reality of the film has always been undercut by name recognition or a convoluted premise. (One can hardly suspect Cloverfield of being legitimate footage when it credits JJ Abrams and features crazy aliens.) With this simple, straightforward premise and convincing performances – both by the main actors and by the potentially unwitting players – Best Day Ever makes a credible play within the grey area of truth and fiction. The idea that some of the action in Best Day Ever may have resulted through the disturbance of others or without prior consent does add an ethical quandary to the film, but it’s nothing like the offensive tricks of Borat, Brüno, or Jackass. Boys will be boys, it seems! The quasi-reality feel is frequently effective regardless, so Best Day Ever shows what new possibilities are afforded to film by the small, covert advances of the medium.
The film uses its modest production to its advantage, using minimalist POV cinematography and an all-diegetic indie soundtrack to up the realism of the found footage. Likewise, the cast offers an honest and intimate portrait of contemporary youth culture, which is sold particularly well by the three leads. The brisk story of Aiden’s best day engages right up to its surprising conclusion. Poignant and convincing, Best Day Ever: Aiden Kesler 1994-2011 is an impressive exercise in the latest trends in digital filmmaking.
Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)
Best Day Ever: Aiden Kesler 1994-2011 is currently available on iTunes