While it’s not difficult to see why Dan Fogelman’s popular TV series This Is Us became an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic almost overnight, mostly thanks to its introspective, albeit schmaltzy, narrative and hugely likeable characters, sadly the same can’t be said about the writer/director’s latest cinematic offering Life Itself.
Starring Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde and Antonio Banderas amongst other Hollywood heavyweights, Life Itself doesn’t so much as offer any kind of coherent story, but it instead relies heavily on a mishmash of well-meaning, if in the end deeply muddled, reductive and all together baffling series of generational stories about loss, family ties and every other cliched piece of cod-philosophy you can think of. And that’s not even the worst thing about it.
In short, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms, Life Itself tells the story of a series of tragic events in the life of Will (Isaac) and his college sweetheart Abby (Wilde). Opening on an excruciating prologue which is narrated by Samuel L Jackson, the film goes on to tell a story of strife and missed opportunities which later also follows the life of the couple’s rebellious teenage daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke). It then comes full circle to teach us a Valuable Lesson – although the jury is still out on what that might be. Confused yet? There’s more. The second act takes us to Spain where rich land-owner Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas) finds himself deeply invested in the life of one of his farm hands, played by Sergio Peris-Mencheta who, after marrying the beautiful Isabella (Laia Costa), finds he is no longer able to provide for her.
Fogelman offers a hugely flawed film which can’t seem to put its finger on what it wants to convey to its audience. With lengthy and overly wordy pronouncements, which incidentally add absolutely nothing to the story, Life Itself is simply too disjointed for anyone to get any worth out it.
While Isaac, Wild, Cooke et al cannot be faulted for their collective turns in this deeply ill-judged production, in the end one has to ask the question, how did the film get to the point of being made without anyone saying, “hold on, does any of this actually make any sense at all”? Clearly not. On the whole, a shoddily written, pretentious and deeply tiresome piece of filmmaking which deserves to be forgotten as soon as its seen and never heard of again.
Life Itself is in cinemas and Sky Cinema on 4 January.