Director: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Anna Wilczek
To quote one of the characters in Dan Fogelman’s episodic Life Itself, “no one knows where their story is going”. Unfortunately, that proves to be quite on the nose in this case.
In ‘Chapter 1’ of the film, we meet Oscar Isaac’s Will, as he recounts how he fell in love with his wife Abby (Olivia Wilde) to his therapist. Will reminisces about how he and Abby wanted to be the husband and wife Tarantino, the time they dressed up as Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace (Fogelman is clearly a Quentin fan), and Abby’s obsession with Bob Dylan’s 1997 album Time Out Of Mind, a record that provides the soundtrack for the majority of the film. We also find out that they’re expectant parents, as the narrative jumps from past, to present, and back again. So far, so twee.
But then tragedy strikes and the chapter comes to an abrupt end. Onto ‘Chapter 2’ then, with the ever-brilliant Olivia Cooke as sullen teenager Dylan on the night of her 21st birthday, an evening overshadowed by more tragedy. And on it goes. With the recurring themes of family and loss, and a storyline that constantly shifts between time and characters, it’s easy to draw comparisons with Fogelman’s TV series This Is Us. But while the series can be guilty of over-sentimentality, you invest in the characters whose lives you are following.
This melodramatic soap opera approach doesn’t translate to feature film length, and one of the main reasons is that we aren’t given enough time with any of the characters to genuinely care what happens to them. If the film were in a ‘movie universe’, it would be in the company of Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, with their plot contrivances, forced dialogue and the overt interlinking of storylines. Life Itself is an ambitious film, but one that, sadly, relies too heavily on plot devices and trying to emotionally manipulate the audience with scenes that appear to have been devised purely to make them cry. The chapters don’t hold together well enough to form a cohesive narrative.
Life Itself is more suited to a home on the small screen as the latest contribution from Sky Cinema’s Original Films, arriving on the service the same day as the theatrical release.