Life Itself (2018)
Critic Consensus: A mawkish melodrama that means less the more it tries to say, Life Itself suggests writer-director Dan Fogelman's talents are best suited to television.
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Critic Reviews for Life Itself
The film's indulgences are so heart-on-sleeve that it's hard to differentiate watching it from hearing someone pitch their very bad screenplay ideas with no attempt to read the room...
Despite the suffering ladled on to the characters, I remained stonily unmoved throughout.
Confused, cliched and meandering to the point of incoherence. Everyone involved with this is capable of far better, but sadly this mess of a film cannot be redeemed by any of them.
Wilde and Isaac are a chemistry-free coupling, which doesn't help, but Will and Abby are also fingers-down-the-blackboard awful.
Audience Reviews for Life Itself
"Okay. Let's listen to Hoobastank now." This glib, meta treatment of Paul Haggis' Crash brought to us by the screenwriter of Cars is tonally stupid. Starting off aggressively obnoxious, every character played by this mostly A-list cast (Annette Bening, Oscar Isaac, Olivia Cooke, Olivia Wilde) seems to be a different facet of the same depressed 40 year old hipster. It's ridiculously saccharine at times, trying desperately not to come off as pretentious and failing. At the halfway mark it turns on a dime from a coy exploration of mortality to a Spanish melodrama. There's a method to the madness however because all of the contrived emotional whiplash is there to provoke a nice Hallmark channel cry, but it's hard to muster up any tears when you're too busy rolling your eyes. I'm not the only person to point this out, but it's easy to see the comparisons critics have drawn between this and Collateral Beauty. If there were one film this year that I would recommend watching just to experience the sheer baffling awfulness of...life itself, it would be...Life Itself.
Every experienced filmmaker knows when they have their audiences attention, but what is more telling of experienced filmmakers is that they know when they're losing their audience and thus adjust their film accordingly. Writer/director Dan Fogelman (the creator of a show I've never seen an episode of, but also a show Iï¿ 1/2(TM)ve never heard more about...This is Us) has only one previous feature under his belt as a director, but is an accomplished writer with a slew of solid credits to his name (including Tangled and Crazy Stupid Love as well as his immensely popular TV show). That taken into consideration, Fogelman knows-as a writer-when he has his audience in the palm of his hand and for the entirety of the first act of his new film, Life Itself, Fogelman has us right where he wants us until this unique and kind of experimental structure heï¿ 1/2(TM)s trying out more or less finds a groove of complacency that both causes the movie to lose steam and the audience to lose interest. Still, some of the performances here are outright fantastic-especially Oscar Isaac who transitions seamlessly over three different time periods and three wildly different mindsets. Olivia Wilde is so damn likable even if the movieï¿ 1/2(TM)s other Olivia, Olivia Cooke, is horribly wasted. Antonio Banderas is charming as ever, but it is Sergio Peris-Mencheta that really shines in the latter half of the film as the quietly honorable Javier. The final line reading by Isaac though, hammers home the perspective of sentiment Fogelman is chasing and more times than not-he lands it. One can easily call this emotionally manipulative, but I was invested, I was moved, and most importantly-I cared. Maybe I should give This is Us a chance...
.Under the thumb of writer/director Dan Fogelman (TV's This Is Us), the lives of several inter-connected characters in Life Itself are bonded by a seemingly endless assembly of human tragedy. That's life, he seems to say, but there's also a lot of death here. There's death by accident, death by suicide, death by cancer, parental abandonment, addiction, mental illness, let alone fleeting mentions of sexual abuse and incest. Throughout it all, the characters of Fogelman press onward, making whimsical observations about human existence and perception, some of which I don't think are quite as profound as he may think. What does "life is an unreliable narrator" exactly mean? I understand the implication of unexpected twists and turns, but life is objective, it's more a medium for events that others will impart differing perceptions... it doesn't matter. We jump around through multiple chapters across generations, though it all looks like it takes place in the same five or so years, waiting for the final revelations of what connect these different people and their stories of heartache. Much of the story hinges on these connective revelations because a far majority of the characters have little characterization other than broad strokes. they are pieces meant to form a puzzle. Because of its ensemble nature, some storylines are just more interesting than others, and some characters are given more meaningful things to do onscreen. The film gets significantly better once we transition away from Oscar Isaac as an over-caffeinated smarty-pants reflecting about his pregnant ex-wife (Olivia Wilde). From there we go overseas to an olive ranch in Italy and Antonio Banderas, who uncorks a swell Spanish monologue to a man he wants to ingratiate into his family. Fogelman alternates his hearty doses of old melodrama with meta asides, some of which work like a grandfather-granddaughter sit-down where they express the verbose subtext out loud, and some of them do not, like Samuel L. Jackson appearing as a literal flesh-and-blood narrator. An ongoing diatribe about a Bob Dylan song from his 1997 comeback album also seems a strange student film-level pretentious linchpin. I liked individual performances, individual moments, but Life Itself cannot escape the smothering effect that Fogelman employs as a dramatist, trying to turn every moment into a mosaic he feels will gain beauty and clarity if he just keeps pulling further and further back to reveal the grand design. It wants us to take comfort in the big picture but the details are misery. Nate's Grade: C+
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