Written by: Dewey Singleton
Director Dan Fogelman’s first feature film, Life Itself attempts to ask the question “If life brings you to your knees, will you go farther?” After seeing this cacophony of melodramatic narratives become so twisted and misguided, I’m not sure anyone would. There comes a point when a film becomes so lost in itself that everything unfolding begins to make little sense. While Fogelman’s television work has been celebrated, his debut film is destined for the bottom of the dollar DVD bin at Walmart. How can a writer who gets things so right on television end up being an utter failure as a filmmaker?
The film’s storyline is a sadistic cha-cha wherein we are consistently set up to latch on to a particular character only to witness their over the top demise. Why? Is it because that’s the formula which works on This Is Us? If this were some television series then perhaps it would be effective. The problem with employing these type of tactics in a film is the storytelling is all but lost. What’s left is one depressing revelation after another leading everyone down a very dark path.
According to Indiewire, Fogelman believes these bad reviews (this one included) come from “white male critics who don’t like anything that has emotion.” No, sir, it’s not just white male critics who loathe Life Itself, but critics of almost every gender, ethnicity, and sexuality who recognize this film is abhorrent. There is nothing emotional about Life Itself! Fogelman’s failure is a one hour and fifty-eight-minute jaunt full of melodramatic cruelty and befuddling plot devices.
Life Itself attempts to disguise its glaring issues by making use of two different plot devices which both are executed poorly. Firstly, Fogelman crafts the storyline so that each quarter of the film makes up part of a non-linear timeline. He hopes to give the impression that this story is being told from memory. Instead it only makes portions of the film more confusing than they have to be. Also, dividing the film into four different chapters makes matters worse. Was the intent behind using this device to show how these individuals are strongly connected? Life Itself makes that connection, but does so in what amounts to be a closing montage. There are significant revelations that could have been explored but are glossed over because this isn’t reality, it’s the director’s version of real life (eye-roll).
Usually, this is where I’d get into the plot but even revealing just a snippet serves as a spoiler for anyone who wants to subject themselves to this nonsense. However, we can certainly talk about the performances. Oscar Isaac is a fantastic actor, but not even he can generate any empathy for his character. Rather than rooting for him, his character Will ends up blending in during the first quarter of the film (which in light of what happens). Annette Benning is misused, and one wonders why she even signed on for the role. Olivia Wilde’s portrayal of Abby is slightly over the top, lacking any authenticity.
Frederico Jusid’s score doesn’t add much to the film (then again I’m not sure John Williams could have either). Brett Pawlak’s cinematography is just one close-up after another to the point where it becames uncomfortable. Why must we see an up-close shot of Mandy Patinkin’s beard? Is it because we all need to witness this raw “emotion” unfold in this narrative? This paint by numbers approach demonstrates no skill and makes Life Itself unappealing to watch.
Seeing this film will leave audiences with more questions than answers and more rage than enjoyment. There are plenty of better options to choose this weekend than a movie that makes Dr. T And The Woman and The Book Of Henry look like Oscar-caliber films.