Life Itself
dir-scr Dan Fogelman
prd Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Aaron Ryder
with Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening, Mandy Patinkin, Antonio Banderas, Jean Smart, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Alex Monner, Lorenza Izzo, Samuel L Jackson
release US 21.Jan.18, UK 4.Jan.18
18/US 1h58
Life Itself
Expecting, expectant: Wilde and Isaac

bening patinkin banderas
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Life Itself Writer-director Dan Fogelman has gone from his hit TV series This Is Us to a film with an even more anodyne title. His approach here is similar, leaping around various timelines to tell the story of a family over three generations. And this time he ambitiously weaves in a second family and continent. But even the persistent voiceover can't connect the leaps in logic or overwrought sentimentality.

Will and Abby (Isaac and Wilde) have a cute courtship and happy life in New York. Until they don't. And this sent Will into a mental hospital. Now in therapy with Dr Cait (Bening), he's working through his deep depression, while his parents (Patinkin and Smart) worry. Meanwhile in Spain, Saccione (Banderas) promotes skilled worker Javier (Peris-Mencheta), then takes an attentive interest in Javier's wife Isabel (Costa) and son Rodrigo (Monner). Their lives will intersect with Will and Abby's at two key points that change everything.

After a lively opening voiceover from Samuel L Jackson, the script introduces its central idea that narrators are unreliable. As is, ahem, life itself. Once the story starts in earnest, the narrator is Izzo, whose character connects into the plot later, when generations converge in an explosion of emotion. The main problem, aside from the tsunami of schmaltz in the final moments, is that Fogelman tries to make all of this frightfully complex by cutting into indistinct timelines that won't make sense until later.

In other words, it's very difficult to get a grip on a character when we're not completely sure how they're connected or if what they're going through is just another unreliable tale. Each of the actors invests personality into his or her role, so the scenes play with proper dramatic kick, moments of edgy comedy and some terrific chemistry in surprising places. But there's no stand-out character the audience can identify with, only isolated moments.

Fogelman seems to have become so caught up in his amazing idea that he forgot to make it resonate. For the audience, it ultimately seems fairly simple, really. The crises these characters face aren't that messy, so solutions seem obvious. And the real problems in their lives are twists of fate anyway, so it's pointless to agonise over them. Nasty things happen to everyone in the world, but the ordeals these characters endure are played as if they are far more important than the lives of us mere moviegoers. So the final surge of slush is almost insulting.

cert 15 themes, language 2.Oct.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall