Fans of the hit NBC show “This Is Us” might expect showrunner Dan Fogelman’s newest project to be a multigenerational epic full of tear-jerking scenes and emotional manipulation. They are completely right. Unfortunately, this transition from television to film does not work. The plot of “Life Itself” is difficult to explain, since any attempt would either result in a poorly described summary or a spoiler-filled one. If you are going to watch this movie, it is best to know as little about it as possible.
The trailer itself was very misleading as I was left more emotional from watching the preview than I was from the actual movie. It’s apparent that Fogelman expected audiences to feel devastated whenever something heart-wrenching would happen, but after a while, it became so obviously forced that it was more comical.
The film wanted to show life in a realistic way, but in doing so, it made you sit there and wait for something tragic to happen. “Life Itself” works like a bad horror movie. A majority of it is a boring and cheesy plot with someone dying horrifically every now and then.
“Life Itself” also suffers from pacing and tonal issues. The film jumps from its comedic yet totally repetitive and unnecessary Bob Dylan and “Pulp Fiction” references to another dreadful death. The film is also divided into chapters that follow the lives of different characters, each one feels like its own movie.
The first chapter was a collection of deaths used for shock value that couldn’t decide if they wanted to be a romantic comedy or a tragic love story. The next chapter felt like a Spanish soap opera, but was surprisingly the most interesting part of the movie. I understand that life isn’t composed of just one overall tone moving at one pace, but that doesn’t mean a film should be made this way.
The film took away the audience’s freedom to interpret what they watched. Characters outright described the meaning of the title in a way that was overly forced. When Olivia Wilde’s character has to explain the title of the film in the form of a writing thesis, it’s apparent that Fogelman either thinks so little of the audience that he doesn’t believe they could understand anything without it being spoon-fed to them, or he wants the audience to interpret the film in his way and his way only.
“Life Itself” is filled with a number of monologues that simply explain concepts. Oscar Isaac’s character Will spends around 30 minutes telling the audience something that happened in the past, Olivia Cooke’s character Dylan monologues through voice-over describing events that already occurred and Antonio Banderas’ character Mr. Saccione gives a strong, yet irrelevant monologue for a good three minutes. I felt almost nothing when these supposed devastating instances were described. They were flat out just told to the audience.
“Life Itself” is a film that wishes it was more deep and meaningful than it actually is, constantly bringing up the idea: would this do better as a show? In short, no. “Life Itself” did offer a few positive aspects, such as standout performances from Mandy Patinkin, Banderas, Isaac and a few interesting plot points. However, if this film were to be stretched out into a multiseasonal TV show, then it would just be a subpar version of “This is Us.”
Overall, this film was disappointing to say the least. Rather than use the array of great actors and talent around him to create a meaningful and emotional film, Fogelman settled for something that was more convoluted and nonenjoyable. “Life Itself” is a film that thinks an attempt to show emotion and truth is enough to count as a great film, but it just ends up disappointing its audience.