DIRECTOR: Dan Fogelman
CAST: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Alex Monner, Jean Smart, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Lorenza Izzo, Caitlin Carmichael, Jordana Rose, Kya Kruse, Alisa Sushkova, Yeray Alba Leon, Pablo Lagüens Abad, Javier Verdugo Luque, Adrian Marrero, Samuel L. Jackson
RUNNING TIME: 117 mins
BASICALLY…: A string of people across multiple generations are connected by one tragic event…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t fully expecting to see Life Itself a second time in the cinema, although I really wouldn’t have been kicking myself if I didn’t. Dan Fogelman’s melodrama (in the loosest of senses) is being distributed in the UK by Sky Cinema, who have in the past shown their original films exclusively through their on-demand services, with a theatrical release being something of a rarity; but I suppose this one is an exception due to its prolific writer-director – Fogelman also created hit TV drama series This Is Us – and impressive cast, not to mention how this film has already made headlines, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
I already mentioned in my previous review for this film, during its run at the BFI London Film Festival back in October, that the movie debuted to horrendous reviews and an abysmal box office in the US, with Fogelman placing blame on the white male critics who apparently have the emotional range of a Vulcan. Nothing has changed about the fact that Life Itself is a pretty bad movie that any critic of any background can identify as being extremely lousy, but the one thing that I can say for certain which is different from the first time I saw this film, is that I never noticed until a second viewing just how far up its own arse this script truly is; you can practically see out of its mouth, that’s how far up there is appears to be.
The plot, as a recap, follows several people across multiple generations, spanning a couple of different countries, but all connected by one major event. We first follow Will (Oscar Isaac), who is miserably relaying to his therapist (Annette Bening) the details about his happy marriage to a woman named Abby (Olivia Wilde), until things ended pretty badly. We then see what their daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke) is going through several years later, before then switching to an entirely different narrative set in Spain where olive picker Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) woos and has a child with his girlfriend Isabel (Laia Costa), whilst also dealing with his boss Vincent (Antonio Banderas) who has become a helpful part of his family’s life. There’s also a brief part at the beginning where Samuel L. Jackson shows up as himself to narrate script directions, but the film never goes anywhere with that so neither shall I.
The film obviously thinks it’s saying something profound about the grand scheme of life and how it works in mysterious ways or some other fortune-cookie bollocks, but it ends up looking so dumb and pretentious when it tries conveying those messages. There are so many monologues by characters that seem to go on for an eternity – there’s a ten-minute scene where Antonio Banderas’s character is relaying his own past to Javier, but it’s dragged out for so long that it feels more like ten hours – and yet you never really get what they’re trying to say, because the writing is so convoluted and hackneyed that it makes very little sense to anyone except the person writing it, who seems to be under the impression that they’re writing the next big revolutionary piece of philosophy. It will also make several of the characters look and sound utterly crazy, like a scene when Olivia Wilde just bursts into Oscar Isaac’s college fraternity and suddenly goes on to explain her thesis on life being the ultimate unreliable narrator, but she sounds like she’s snorted an entire bag of cocaine before entering and comes across as some ditzy weirdo who has no idea what in the hell she’s actually talking about. There are so many scenes like that, where the writing is so self-important and pretentious that its misguided ambition brings itself down several levels, and you’re left with a movie that thinks way too highly of itself and desperately needs to be brought back down to earth.
None of the actors can be faulted for making this movie the dreary experience that it is, as these are some great actors working with such a meagre script and misguided direction, and you can’t fault someone for showing up and doing their job as required. That being said, these actors are giving it their best effort, including industry veterans like Mandy Patinkin and Antonio Banderas, and relative newcomers like Olivia Cooke and Laia Costa, who all do what they can to salvage any of the genuine emotion that’s been lost in this appalling screenplay, and to their credit most of them do pretty well here with what they’re given. But it’s still a case of polishing a turd, and although these actors are really trying they really can’t entirely save some of the most manipulative, convoluted and insanely self-righteous dialogue you could possibly start your New Year off with.
I suppose if you are curious about this film, and have heard so many bad things about it that you want to check it out just to see how bad it really is, I would say go for it, but be aware that this isn’t a case of the movie being so bad it’s good, but more like it’s so bad it’s sometimes amusing but most other times really dull. You are going to be subject to endless monologues containing the most pretentious nonsense about life and all its mysteries, and several stories that go nowhere or are so misguided that they end up doing more harm than good; but if that’s your thing, and you want a film that will confirm all of your fortune-cookie sayings overheard in your local Starbucks, then who am I to judge?
There’s clearly an audience for a film like Life Itself, but that audience seems to be in the minority on this occasion.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Life Itself is a dreary exercise in self-righteous writing and direction by Dan Fogelman who gives his talented cast a script so pretentious and full of itself that it undermines their natural abilities and gives the audience a dull, misguided attempt at melodrama to endure.