MaxSpace

Movie Review: Life Itself

Tears will be jerked, yanked, extracted—whatever it takes.

By Max Weiss | September 21, 2018, 5:17 pm

-Amazon
MaxSpace

Movie Review: Life Itself

Tears will be jerked, yanked, extracted—whatever it takes.

By Max Weiss | September 21, 2018, 5:17 pm

-Amazon

Life Itself tries very hard to be the Love, Actually of misery porn. It tells several interconnected stories, all featuring beautiful people in love, and shocking tragedies. This is the kind of film that has so much death, tragedy, and destruction, you spend the entire time waiting for an actual piano to fall on someone’s head. The film is written and directed by Dan Fogelman of the popular TV melodrama This is Us. Suffice it to say that the dude loves jerking tears like Trump loves self-tanner.

Critics have absolutely savaged the film—and of course they have. On top of the highly manipulative tragedies, the film has some pseudo-lofty thoughts about life being the ultimate unreliable narrator (a thought that is expressed out loud multiple times in the film and also written on the front page of a college thesis, in case you didn’t catch it the first time). At least the first part of the film actually addresses the unreliable narrator—explicitly. The second half is a pretty straightforward melodrama, although it screeches to a baffling halt when Antonio Banderas, as Saccione, tells the (tragic) story of his life—in Spanish. (Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with the scene per se—Banderas sells it—but it breaks up the film’s rhythms in a bizarre way.)

It’s hard to describe the plot(s) without giving too much away but I’ll give it a whirl. The first “chapter” of the film deals with Will (Oscar Isaac) who is reeling after his wife, Abby (Olivia Wilde) leaves him. In flashbacks, we see that Abby is your basic Bob Dylan and Quentin Tarantino loving “cool girl” and Will’s devotion to her veers from charming to obsessive. But Abby herself is the victim of multiple tragedies—so, so many tragedies—it’s hard to believe that she’s the chill, well-adjusted woman that Will describes. (Yes, I get it, Will is an unreliable narrator–or so we’ve been told over and over again—but the film is too shallow to really explore Abby’s psyche.)

The second chapter deals with Will and Abby’s rebellious daughter Dylan (get it?), who is being raised by her kindly grandfather, Irwin (Mandy Patinkin). The two have what I believe is supposed to be a cute ritual where Irwin takes a sip of whiskey and little Dylan pantomimes taking a sip of whiskey, and then they both give a satisfied sigh. This is hella inappropriate when Dylan is a little girl and not much better when Dylan is a disaffected teenager (Olivia Cooke), who follows the ritual by swiping Irwin’s glass and chugging its contents.

The third chapter focuses on a salt-of-the-earth foreman (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) of an olive grove who is suspicious when the grove’s cosmopolitan but lonely owner (Banderas) takes an interest in his family, particularly his pretty wife (Laia Costa).

The final chapter involves the foreman’s son (Àlex Monner), now living in New York and about to meet a depressed girl on a bench and, well, maybe you can guess who she is. (The answer is blowin’ in the wind…)

I haven’t even begun to touch on the pile-up of tragedies or the coincidences that keep this thing trucking along, but so be it. The real question is: Will you like it? I mean, maybe? If you’re the kind of person who really loves the easily accessible emotional beats of TV soap operas, you might indeed. It certainly has lots of great actors trying their best. And it’ll almost definitely make you cry. Fogelman has been defending his film against the onslaught of bad reviews (13 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes—yikes!), arguing that real people will love the film. Is it possible that film critics are the most unreliable narrators of them all?




Meet The Author

Max Weiss is the editor-in-chief of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.



You May Also Like


Arts & Culture

New Music from Joy Postell and Haint Blue

We review their albums Diaspora and Overgrown.

Arts & Culture

Marching Orders

The Dunbar High School marching band fosters a community of musicians.

Arts District

Culture Club: Roxane Gay at Loyola, Dan Deacon and the BSO, Jim Jones Plays

Our monthly roundup of openings, events, and news from the art world.


Arts District

Little Match Girl Performance Immerses Audience in Completely New Way

Baltimore Choral Arts Society and MICA team up to deliver innovative approach to Hans Christian Andersen story.

Arts & Culture

Working Through It

WombWork Productions uses theater to teach and empower.

Arts District

Vocal-Only Embody Show Returns to WTMD

The showcase celebrating the human voice comes to Towson this Thursday.

Connect With Us

Most Read


Union Craft and DuClaw to Both Release LGBTQ-Inspired Beers: Divine IPA and Unicorn Farts sour ale will each debut in March.

Sassanova to Open at Green Spring Station: Local shoe and clothing boutique to open third location

Ana Rodney Puts Maternal Health of Black Women at the Forefront: The doula and activist started MOMCares as a way to advocate for black mothers.

The First Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week Kicks Off: Local vegan advocates promote healthy lifestyle and inclusive community.

Best Places For Parents to Restore Peace and Sanity Away From Kids: Whether you have two hours (or two minutes), take some time for yourself.