Movie Review: Life Itself
Though Life Itself is not the first film that explores the idea of lives intertwining because of a series of random events, it might just be the worst. Movies like Crash and Amores Perros take on similar themes in ways that make audiences empathize with its characters. Life Itself, however, chooses to emphasize melodrama over character development to the extent that it ends up being unintentionally comical.
The plot follows three separate but interconnected stories through four generations. First up is Will (Oscar Isaac), who is mourning the demise of his marriage to Abby (Olivia Wilde). The film then jumps from New York to Spain, where Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) lives with his new wife Isabel (Laia Costa). Javier is the land keeper of the wealthy Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas), who strikes up a fatherly relationship with Javier and Isabel’s son. Lastly, there is Dylan (Olivia Cooke), Will and Abby’s rebellious teenage daughter, who struggles to find her place in the world with the help of her grandfather (Mandy Patinkin).
Though these plotlines should be enough to carry the film, director Dan Fogelman bafflingly chooses to introduce so many unnecessary and tragic deaths and unrealistic scenarios that it ends up feeling like a bad soap opera. Fogelman is best known for creating the television drama This Is Us, which has been known to make its audiences bawl. Perhaps the biggest issue with Life Itself is that Fogelman attempts to pack the same amount of twist and turns that are on the show into a two-hour movie, making it feel inauthentic.
Fogelman also explores the theme of the “unreliable narrator” to the point of repetition: Abby writes a thesis on the subject in college, and the movie starts off with Samuel L. Jackson humorously narrating what is later revealed to be a screenplay written by Will. Jackson is later replaced by a female narrator. The point is to show that life is the most unreliable narrator of all; a point that is constantly shoved down the audience’s throat.
Good filmmakers trust their audiences to make their own judgments and discoveries when it comes to deciding what a story means to them. In Life Itself, it’s clear that Fogelman doesn’t believe that people will understand his message, so he spends most of the movie explicitly telling his viewers what to think. Ironically, this is the exact opposite of how life works in the first place.