It’s like “Collateral Beauty” just with a less Oscar-nominated cast and less amusing absurdity.
“Life Itself” follows several people as their stories intertwine over the course of decades, and how everyone is all randomly connected by a single event. Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas fill out the cast while Dan Fogelman writes and directs.
So, a few things. Firstly, this film has to have one of the worst trailers of all-time. I hate to keep comparing it to “Collateral Beauty” (I will one more time in this review but other than that I’m done) but much like that film, the trailer for “Life Itself” is full of eye-rolling and vomit-inducing lines and a clear sense of faux-inspiration. It is also horribly misleading as to the true nature of the film, but more on that in a moment. Second, I actually enjoy much of Dan Fogelman’s work. I really adore “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and found some pleasure in his other writings “Last Vegas,” “Danny Collins” and even “The Guilt Trip.” However most people would know him best for creating the show “This Is Us,” which for as blah as I personally find it there is clearly an audience and it has made Fogelman be able to get the reigns to write and direct his own feature like this with little restraints.
The problem (among many) with “Life Itself” is that it has a script that thinks it is smart while simultaneously assuming the audience is dumb. It uses big words and has its characters go on long wannabe Aaron Sorkin tangents, but always slows down to spoonfeed you exposition (what little of an actual narrative there is) or just suddenly ends a plotline (get it, cuz that’s life!). The film opens with narration from Samuel L. Jackson (no, I am not kidding) and once that shock wears off you realize just how much of a cringe voyage you’re about to set sail on.
The performances are all fine, God help any actor try to make this dialogue sound natural. People say the F word every other sentence in a way that just feels unorganic, as if this was written by a middle schooler who just got the guts to swear and feels the need to say it all the time. Tarantino gets clever with his excessive and liberal use of curse words; Fogelman just tosses it in because…actually, I don’t know why (example: one of the characters names their dog F*ckface, collar and all). People talk like no human in the recorded history of mankind ever has, and it is almost like Fogelman is an alien or robot who was programmed to try and construct human interactions but failed horribly (“I love you, but I don’t know if I am equipped to be loved this much”).
With a film like “Collateral Beauty” (last time) it is so bad yet so absurd that it is watchable in the moment and entertaining to explain to other people in hindsight. I had a blast telling everyone the actual plot of that film, which is that Will Smith’s three friends hire actors to pretend to be the spiritual embodiments of love, death and time in order to make him look crazy and steal his company from him (as friends do from time to time). Here, it is just schmaltzy and what Fogelman imagines as relatable and cute, but in the end is just boring. Also, this film is insanely dark and in no way what the trailers or colorful poster imply, and there is an odd obsession with bus-related accidents.
And it is not even like all the fake emotional baiting even works. When The Rock was holding his daughter and telling her he was sorry he couldn’t save her in “Skyscraper,” I got a tickle in my throat. When an elderly man was reunited with his sister 70 years after they were separated during the Holocaust in “The Equalizer 2,” I choked up a little. But here, where melodrama comes to thrive and families are falling apart and coming together? My face remained stoic the entire 117 minutes.
Look, there is no way you watched the trailer for “Life Itself” and thought it was going to be a good and/or intelligent movie. You could tell right away it would be emotionally manipulative, have characters deliver dialogue in ways no human every has and just be a big intertwined mess. And, at least in that sense, it did not lie to us.
Critic’s Grade: D
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