Life Itself: A Tonally Uneven Mess

Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac in Life Itself. Photo Credit: Jose Haro.

Despite the best efforts from a star-studded cast, Life Itself is a tonally uneven mess in spite of all the hype going into the film.

Given the positive reception of the This is Us on NBC, it’s surprising to believe that Dan Fogelman could follow it up with such a dud.  This film is all over the place.  Seriously.

The first hour of the film is New York-centered because if you don’t live in New York or Los Angeles, your existence isn’t really deemed worthy of a Hollywood film.  After a quick cold open narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, we first meet Will (Oscar Isaac) talking with his therapist (Annette Bening) now that he’s no longer hospitalized.  It’s been some six months since his wife, Abby (Olivia Wilde), left him.  It’s through the therapy session in which the first chapter of our story is grounded.  Flashbacks takes us to their college years when their romance blossomed.  Mostly, they focus in on the birth of their first child, Dylan (Olivia Cooke as a young woman).

The first hour–I’ll cut straight to the point–is full of death and despair. We’re first introduced to what turns out to be Will’s screenplay about a guy obsessed with fantasy football. It’s narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and sets us up for a comedy. Things only go downhill from here.  It isn’t that we get fooled into thinking the film is a comedy but that it’s tonally all over the place.  One minute, we’re laughing at a person getting run over by a busy.  At least that’s what I was doing.

The second hour is essentially all subtitles.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that but I thought you should know what you’re getting into.  We get introduced to the wealthy Spanish landowner, Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas) and one of his employees Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta).  Javier is promoted to serve as a manager on his olive plantation.  We also meet Javier’s girlfriend-turned-wife Isabelle (Laia Costa), and their son, Rodrigo (Alex Monner).  Rodrigo is what ties the second hour of the film to the first hour.

To say that Life Itself is a shit show would be an understatement. A highly hyped film heading into this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the film was received with plenty of negative buzz.  Upon hearing the bad buzz, I gave the film a pass because I knew there was a chance, however small, that I’d see it upon return to Chicago.  Folks, I’d love to tell you that being drugged up on Sudafed doesn’t do much to improve the film.  I wish it would but it doesn’t change a bad film from being a bad film.

My honest recommendation is that you wait for Life Itself to hit Prime Video.  I hate to say it but not even drunk- or hate-watching will improve the film.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Dan Fogelman
CAST:  Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Olivia Cooke, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Laia Costa, Alex Monner, Mandy Patinkin, with Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas

Life Itself held its world premiere during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Gala program.  Amazon Studios opens the film in theaters on September 21, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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