Courtesy of Amazon Studios
The creator of “This is Us” takes the TV formula - which boasts astronomical ratings – to the big screen. And while fans of the Dan Fogelman drama could find a silver lining in his newest picture, “Life Itself,” it’s both the most manipulative and dumbest film of the year.
For starters, “Life Itself” insults the viewer and takes them for granted. Insinuating that you're unable to comprehend how the mechanics of a plot driven movie should work. Every small and minor detail of this film is laid out and spoonfed to the audience, often times explained via voiceover and montage. If you're struggling to follow along, and gather an opinion - don't worry, the film will explain the entire scope within the first ten minutes. If I had solid actors like: Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar Issac and Olivia Wilde to help narrate my story, I, too, would use that to overshadow shoddy storytelling.
Yet, “Life Itself” is mostly about death. With Fogelmen tweaking his successful “This is Us” formula to trick the audience into thinking they're witnessing something profoundly entertaining. Instead, they're just being duped hand over fist. “Life Itself” checks all the boxes of preachy, melodramatic noir, without the spice or hook to elevate above the plethora of cliches.
From the start, it pulls together a string of seemingly disoriented plotlines. The film opens with Will (Isaac) a struggling writer that's clearly an alcoholic who we should feel sorry for. His story is broken up and told over multiple timelines; from his days as a scraggly college student doing keg stands to his romantic courtship with his future wife Abby (Wilde). Over the course of these poorly crafted sequences, it's clear that present day Will is suffering (with a plot this convoluted it's hard not see the endgame coming). At the risk of not revealing too much, (though, the movie is predictable to a tee) the subsequent chapters in Will's saga tries to unravel the mystery of his past.
Part of that saga gives us Will and Abby's offspring Dylan (Olivia Cooke – named after Bob Dylan) in a somber sequence clearly meant to manipulate us into feeling more sad. Instead of making things better, Fogelmen only makes them worse.
As if the film wasn't already pure schmaltz, the last third introduces a loving Spanish family and their broken-hearted employer (Antonio Bandares). All of this leads to betrayal, anguish, torment and frustration. Building to a climax that you'll see from miles away, designed to interconnect everything that's come before.
But they aren't twists. Twists are suppose to surprise the viewer. That doesn't exist here.
While “Life Itself” has compassion and shows warmth in the earlier scenes that feature Isaac and Wilde, the whole format is so depressing, you might want to check into rehab once its over. Nothing good happens to anyone in this movie, and I mean that. You won't see a darker film this year. So all that warmth becomes diluted because Fogelmen thinks he's sophisticated.
Instead, he makes us sit through a grueling two hours that builds to an incomprehensible conclusion that's off-putting in every way imaginable. You might get choked up against you're better judgement, or moved by the slightly compelling performances. At the end of the day, human life is worth more than this.