This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 15/10/2018.
You know the dude in Starbucks, the one with the thick-rimmed glasses, chequered shirt and a macchiato who’s forever working on his screenplay? Well, Life Itself is that very screenplay, and somehow it’s escaped the collegiate softboy’s MacBook hard drive to gain major studio funding and unleash itself on an unsuspecting world.
For Dan Fogelman – whose show, This Is Us, struck a delicate balance of nuance and treacle to capture hearts around the world – it’s a cynical writing exercise with little to suggest it has anything to offer the world beyond his smug self-congratulation. This Is Us found a home among primetime telly audiences and, from the mawkish, aimless themes of love, coincidence and family, you’d assume Fogelman was gunning for the same demographic here.
Characters – and there’s a lot of them – are kept at a cold distance by the cavalcade of gimmicks proudly trumpeting the movie’s artifice. Twee chapter-heading intertitles, sudden, unmotivated reveals and non-sequential timeline jumps are signalled in neon, invalidating any of the heart Fogelman is apparently trying to inject – that is, if the embarrassingly unfocused speechifying on life and love is anything to go on.
Upsettingly, there is an immensely likeable ensemble of stars, familiar or not, who have gamely jumped on board only to be squandered entirely. All the key players would have been served far better elsewhere.
Only Antonio Banderas gives anything worth salvaging when, in his first scene, he conducts a magnetic soliloquy in Spanish – a moment that, in a better film, could have helped propel him to an Oscar nomination.
Deadeningly obvious cultural touchstones like Bob Dylan and Pulp Fiction, as well as an egregious overload of Creative Writing 101 gimmickry, means Fogelman fails to land a shot with any possible audience – ultimately making Life Itself an embarrassment for all involved.
CAST: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Antonio Banderas, Olivia Cooke, Annette Benning, Mandy Patinkin
DIRECTOR: Dan Fogelman
WRITER: Dan Fogelman
SYNOPSIS: As a young New York City couple goes from college romance to marriage and the birth of their first child, the unexpected twists of their journey create reverberations that echo over continents and through lifetimes.