Back in 2016, I, along with 10+ million others, became enamored with the NBC drama, This Is Us. Since then, the show’s creator and cast have become hot commodities in Hollywood. With great popularity, comes great opportunities, and This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman probably knows this better than most. His new movie, Life Itself, which he wrote and directed, lends us a valuable lesson about Hollywood – if you have a hit television show, you have the license to make whatever movie you want, even if it’s not particularly good.
I’m not saying Life Itself is a bad movie. It has its redeeming qualities. It hits the same schmaltzy notes that keep me tuning in to This Is Us on a weekly basis, a rarity in television nowadays. The movie’s most private moments elicit a handful of affecting performances that stuck with me long after the movie was over. This ambitious movie wears its bleeding heart on its sleeve. Unfortunately, it’s too preoccupied with its big idea that it forgets to excite you.
Starring Oscar Issac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Benning, Mandy Patinkin, and Antonio Banderas, Life Itself’s plot is too convoluted to recap. All I will say is that there are multiple players, locales and decades involved. Don’t worry—Fogelman makes it easy to follow along by breaking up the movie into chapters, each one focusing on a different narrative. It’s not until the final chapter that everything comes together in one big, meaningful monologue.
The woman sitting next to me was wrecked by Life Itself, and to be honest, one of the last scenes had me on the brink of tears. I wanted to see Life Itself for the same reason I tune in to This Is Us. I want to feel something. I find myself longing for this as more brainless entertainment takes center stage. However, there’s something about the movie that feels intentionally manipulative. There are a few moments (most of which are replayed at least once) that are traumatic, and Fogelman is doing the most to garner a reaction.
The performances in Life Itself are good. However, the one I found most surprising was the one by Antonio Banderas. There’s a scene midway through the movie where Banderas and another character, played by Sergio Peris-Menchet, share their attachment to Spanish olives while sipping on alcohol. In spite of the mundane dialogue, I was captivated by Banderas’ sad eyes
The movie packs a hefty emotional punch. Unfortunately, Life Itself is too busy being self-important that it forgets to have fun, which is why it will likely suffer at the box office this weekend.
At least Fogelman still has This Is Us.