Life Itself Review: Theatrical “This is Us”, this is not.
R: For language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use
Amazon Studios, FilmNation Entertainment, Nostromo Pictures, Temple Hill Entertainment
1 Hr and 57 Minutes
Writer & Dir: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas
Every year we get that one amazing ensemble flick that is bound to garner Oscar talk. Last year we had “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” which was solidified as Oscar bait when it went to TIFF. The same goes for “Moonlight” when it debuted there the year prior. Both films went on to achieve an abundance of awards for the exquisite storytelling and the outstanding ensemble. So, let me tell you firsthand, “Life Itself” is by all means not that movie.
As a young New York couple goes from college romance to marriage and the birth of their first child, the unexpected twists of their journey create reverberations that echo over continents and through lifetimes.
There are two minor saving graces for this film and their names are Laia Costa and Mandy Patinkin. These are two actors who are real life sweethearts and portray the only sweet characters in the movie. All of the characters in this movie are unlikable except for those two, for they are the only well-written characters you feel just a little bit for. Laia Costa is an up-and-coming actress who is so sweet and charismatic, and the same goes for Mandy Patinkin who is always known to be a charming figure. The time they spent on screen were the only times I smiled.
For a movie called “Life Itself” written and directed by Dan Fogelman, the creator of “This is Us”, you would expect the film to bear the same qualities as the beloved show he created. NOPE! What you get instead is a melodramatic, mean-spirited drama that does nothing but evoke false emotions out of you. It’s as if Dan Fogelman took the entire trash bin of rejected ideas from his “This is Us” writer’s room and used those unwanted ideas as the basis of this drama.
“Life Itself” plays out as if it is the final project for a senior’s film class because, from the film quality to the writing, the performances, and characters, this is all amateurish. For god's sake, Oscar Isaac’s Will is a struggling screenwriter who is a mopey asshole.
This is one of those movies SNL parodies in a sketch where Pete Davidson says:
to every sentimental cliched trope that occurs around him.
This romantic drama features some of the worst dialogue I’ve witnessed this year. None of these characters interact like real people. They speak in one of two functions: short responses or long tangents that go nowhere as they aim for humor but come across as shock value, or in order to start smart and complex discussions that come across as pretentious. Dan Fogelman thinks he’s Aaron Sorkin with his dialogue when he’s really more of an Akiva Goldsman. Let me hit you with some examples:
While he’s in therapy, Will admits to his therapist “I tried jerking off to you but I couldn’t finish.”
Will’s mom telling his wife Abby, “I’m so happy your parents are dead. I always wanted my son to marry a girl with dead parents.”
Will and Abby have a cute ass dog that they name “Fuckface”. Why? I guess because it’s supposed to be funny.
A girl says to her Spanish boyfriend, “I love it when you talk to me in Spanish. I feel just like Kelly Ripa.”
SERIOUSLY, DAN FOGELMAN!
Because of cringey and uncomfortable moments such as those, not only is your perception of these characters degraded, but it also affects their performance, primarily Oscar Isaac.
Recently, I went on on a rant questioning why Hollywood keeps typecasting Domhnall Gleeson as an unlikable asshole. Well, let me flip the switch to another “Ex Machina” actor and apply the same towards him. WHY IS HOLLYWOOD TYPECASTING OSCAR ISAAC AS THE UNLIKABLE ASSHOLE IN EVERYTHING THAT HE STARS IN?! He is always that snarky, smart ass, impulsive, hot-head in every movie as of recent and it’s annoying. He is a great actor and often delivers great performances despite how unlikable his characters are sometimes. One of the reasons I disliked “The Last Jedi” was because of the actions of his character, Poe Dameron. Now, WHEN YOU MAKE ALL OF HIS CHARACTERS POE DAMERON THEN YOU GOT A PROBLEM. And that problem definitely peaks here with his character Will who is just so detestable that it’s excruciating to root for this guy. One of the first things he does when Will is introduced is sing Bob Dylan in public and all I could think of was rewatching “Inside Llewyn Davis” again. It also made me realize how long it has been since “Inside Llewyn Davis” was released.
As if the movie already can’t express itself with it's terrible dialogue or poorly-constructed storytelling, it also uses the ever so lovely gimmick of the flashback. Let's use flashbacks of people doing romantic things while they are in love so when tragedy occurs to them, you’re emotionally invested! Instead, it’s so poorly contextualized that you would rather play the saddest song on the world’s tiniest fucking violin.
Like a storybook, the movie is divided into chapters that treat its sentimentality as if you’re watching a telenovela. Then, by the third chapter, it abruptly turns into an actual telenovela by having a separate story that barely has any correlation to the previous two that were told. We go from two chapters centered on this family and their tragedies in America, to a family in Spain.
It is centered on a character and his family who were witnesses (and the causes) to a horrific tragedy that took place in chapter 1 involving a bus. It does have a purpose within the bigger picture of the story, and is quite really predictable what it becomes, but it honestly could’ve gone a much better and smarter route than the one it takes. When that chapter is brought in, it is so poorly transitioned in context to the story that it would’ve made more sense to have the chapter focus on the bus rather than the kid that was in it. Also, the film doesn’t do itself any favors by not even trying to explain what place in time all of these chapters take place in. When it comes to time, the film is all over the place.
We often see Abby and Will as college students. The oldest looking fucking college students who attend frat parties. This movie takes place in NYC, they could have casted 20-year-old actors to portray these characters, instead of these 30-something-year-old actors portraying the 20-year-old version of themselves. Haven't we learned anything from late-20’s Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone portrayed as high schoolers in “The Amazing Spider-Man”?
What it comes down to is that this movie is offensive. Offensive in the way that mental illness is depicted. Offensive that it takes the most shocking and silliest route in order to tug on your heartstrings. Offensive that it heavily relies on visuals to manipulate your emotions. And most of all, offensive by assuming you are so inept to the qualities of a good drama that you’re swept up in this movie’s mediocrity and mean spirit.
Tacky, manipulative, poorly written, and downright stupid, “Life Itself” is the living cinematic embodiment of what should not be done when writing a storybook drama. Despite the ensemble’s huge efforts, their performances cannot rescue the garbage fire of a screenplay.
Rating: 1/5| 23%
Super Scene: Isabel’s montage