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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: Overzealous explanation dooms "Life Itself"

Sep 21, 2018 12:37AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac in Life Itself - © 2018 Amazon Studios.

Life Itself (Amazon Studios)

Rated R for language including sexual references, some violent images, and brief drug use.

Starring Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Alex Monner, Samuel L. Jackson, Jean Smart, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Lorenza Izzo, Kya Kruse, Alisa Sushkova, Caitlin Carmichael, Jordana Rose, Yeray Alba Leon, Pablo Lagüens Abad, Javier Verdugo Luque, Adrian Marrero.

Written and directed by Dan Fogelman.



People who know me best also know I can be very emotional and that I’m known to cry while watching some movies (and even some coffee commercials). They also know I’m prone to emit audible groans while watching terrible films. Then there are the movies I sit through, waiting…and waiting for something good to happen yet I am ultimately left disappointed. Dan Fogleman’s Life Itself is a movie that tries really hard to say something about humanity but unfortunately falls into the disappointing category.

The film begins with the flashback of Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby’s (Olivia Wilde) fairytale love story. The flashback is humorously narrated (at first) by Samuel L. Jackson (as himself) but quickly evolves into Will’s version of events, which include the courtship, marriage, and pregnancy between the young couple, ending in tragedy. The couple’s surviving baby daughter is left to be raised by Will’s father Irwin (Mandy Patinkin), growing into the troubled Dylan (Olivia Cooke) as a young adult. Meanwhile, another narrator tells the story of a Spanish family with a complicated situation involving a hard-working ethical man named Javier (Sergio Per-Mencheta) and his love for the beautiful Isabel (Laia Costa). Javier’s boss Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas), is a wealthy olive grower with a troubled past of his own. Mr. Saccione sees something good in Javier and promotes him to run his vast olive operation, which allows Javier to make a home for Isabel on the farm. They bear a son named Rigo (played by Adrian Marrero as a child and Alex Monner as a young adult) who happens to witness the death of a pregnant woman in New York City (can anyone guess who that is?). The trauma caused by this incident troubles the boy, leading Javier and Isabel to seek financial help from Mr. Saccione to pay for Rigo’s therapy. A rift forms between Javier and Saccione, who falls in love with Isabel and treats Rigo as his own son. Javier leaves, and the therapy cures the boy, who grows into a stable, outstanding young man who attends university in New York City, where he will eventually cross paths with Dylan, who has reached her lowest point, due to all the death and despair in her life. 

The convoluted story of all these characters and their “coincidental” connections is only half of the problem with Life Itself. While the actors give more than adequate performances and the movie’s imagery is above par, the bigger issue is the lack of nuance in Fogelman’s approach. The constant narration serves as a less-than-subtle method to ensure that every single audience member knows the meaning behind every moment on screen. It’s as if Robert Frost or Edgar Allen Poe or Immanuel Kant or Emily Dickinson had just read one of their most impressive poems – and then proceeded to explain its meaning, point by point until everyone understands exactly where they were coming from. Fogelman (the man behind the uber-popular This is Us TV series) insults the audience with this form of handholding, depriving anyone of interpreting anything on their own. It also sucks any natural emotion from surfacing, since you’ve already been told how you’re supposed to feel.

It’s too bad, because Fogelman has a real talent for dialogue. Life Itself proves that his storytelling and artistry need a little work.

Life Itself Trailer