Life Itself

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Verdict: 
4/10 – Solid acting performances can’t save the shambolic storyline of Life Itself.
Release Date: 
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Written by: 

Directed by Dan Fogelman, Life Itself focuses on how one tragedy can create reverberations that echo over several generations.

5

With This Is Us, creator Dan Fogelman has made a TV show which follows couples over several generations and describes how their lives are all connected by a single event.

Now, Fogelman has released Life Itself - his second major feature as a director - and taken pretty much that exact same premise and turned it into a 117-minute long movie.

Divided into five chapters, the viewer first meets Will (Oscar Isaac), a depressed man working on a Samuel L. Jackson-narrated script, as he gets kicked out of a New York City coffee shop due to his erratic behaviour.

We then see Will meet with his therapist Dr. Cait Morris (Annette Bening), and it is revealed that he is reeling from the news that his pregnant wife Abby (Olivia Wilde) had recently "left him".

While chatting to Dr. Cait about his life, a series of flashbacks are employed to describe how Will and Abby became college sweethearts, married and were preparing to bring their first child into the world, before they were struck by an unthinkable tragedy.

But just as the audience is getting to grips with each of the characters, Fogelman skips ahead to the second chapter, which focuses on Will and Abby's teenage daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke), who is being cared for by her paternal grandfather Irwin (Mandy Patinkin), and the struggles they face as they try to connect.

Additionally, Fogelman introduces an unexpected new plot thread involving a young couple in Seville, Spain.

Soft-spoken labourer Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and his wife Isabel (Laia Costa) seem blissfully in love, even more so when they welcome son Rodrigo (Adrian Marrero).

However, the presence of wealthy landowner Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas) looms over them, especially when it becomes apparent that he is in love with Isabel, much to olive-picker Javier's dismay.

In an attempt to bring his family together, Javier plans a trip to New York, though, like everything else in the narrative, the vacation doesn't go as planned. The trio end up going home early, with Isabel proceeding to beg Javier to ask Mr. Saccione for help in paying for the therapy their young son desperately requires.

Accordingly, the rest of film explores themes of family and fate, as well as tragedy and trauma, with all the plot threads winding towards a future love story involving an older Rodrigo (Alex Monner).

But the concept Fogelman is most obsessed with is the idea of the "unreliable narrator". He deploys narrators who withhold key information throughout the story, and also uses the device as a metaphor for the idea that life is the ultimate unreliable narrator. At times, this preoccupation is very irritating, and is done in such an obvious way that it takes a lot of energy not to stand up and yell, "That's enough, we get it!"

While the plot is undoubtedly all over the place, thankfully, the stars turn in some decent performances.

Isaac is convincing in his role, and shares wonderful chemistry with Wilde, who brings a welcome level of honesty and warmth.

Yet, quite surprisingly, the story set in Spain ends up being the most memorable, and Banderas is rather memorising in one emotional monologue, while Costa steals scene after scene with her vulnerability.

Ultimately, Life Itself is a film best left to those who are likely to tear up over an episode of This Is Us, and are more than willing to take their belief in destiny to a whole other level.

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