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REVIEW: Life Itself

January 4, 2019

Director: Dan Fogelman
Screenplay: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas
Runtime: 117 Minutes

 

★★☆☆☆

 

Brought to us by writer/director Dan Fogelman, creator of the rather wonderful television series This Is Us, Life Itself follows in the footsteps of his brainchild by creating a multistrand narrative concerning multiple couples over numerous generations, and how they are all connected by a single event.

 

Unfortunately, the concept appears to be the only thing that has translated over into what best amounts to a two-hour session of hard sentimentality porn, complete with dead parents, dogs and a musk of unsavoury tragedy and pain underpinning its messages regarding our universal connections to one and other. 

 

This ultimately aimless exercise tracks over so much ground but accomplishes very little (beyond using its structure as an excuse to rush through nearly 5 different film’s worth of plot in its runtime) is worsened by its obnoxious metacommentary as characters loudly pontificate on their own purposes of existence and walk through the “second-hand memories” of other characters, which are replayed multiple times in an effort to spell out internal thoughts.

 

That’s the other issue here. It’s as if Fogelman has only just discovered that the concept of the ‘unreliable narrator’, and the film and its characters think that applying this as a universally applicable motion toward all storytelling is a revelatory and profound idea – as Oscar Isaac’s dauntingly dense lead puts it, “some deep philosophical shit”.

 

Isaac and Wilde’s characters are the first introduced and the most insufferable by far and giving the worst performances, and even though their lives are a part of the centrepiece to this mess (beginning the film with an egregious cameo in the most show off way possible), the moment they exit the film the film begins to improve.

 

We then get to introductions from a short-changed but none-the-less engaging Olivia Cooke as their daughter and Mandy Patinkin as her grandfather, before moving onto a new story entirely with Antonio Banderas and Sergio Peris-Mencheta, with their introductory conversation being easily the highpoint of the whole thing.

 

But even that is undercut by the reveal of its function as just another fanciful layer to its overbearing narrative thesis, By the time it does reach its stiflingly dumb denouement, any sincerity to its framing and intentions dissolve into sentimental sludge that trades happenstance for cosmic chance and unifying it all as the entire enterprise is turned into a single best-seller list book by a descendant, that might be either a hopeful note of the impact we leave behind or a maudlin horror of bookended lives showing the brevity of our existence.

 

Life Itself aims for uplifting and only just about gets there in it’s sprawling yet unconvincingly tight and rushed narrative of connections and impacts. It seems that television is the much kinder barer for Fogelman’s stories.

 

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