From the get-go, Life Itself is a smug and arrogant film. It seems odd to describe a film as ‘arrogant’, but it is so in love with itself and what it’s trying to do with the rom-com genre and use of the multi-strand narrative, that there really isn’t another way to describe the film. The film begins with a false start, with Samuel L. Jackson being forced to narrate the story, and it is quite possible that Jackson was indeed kidnapped and forced against his will to participate in this film. In fact, one has to wonder whether all of the actors were tricked into being part of this film. Life Itself is a smear on this cast’s resume and it is a film that will soon find its way to the bargain bin in a supermarket (considering whether there are still DVD bargain bins nowadays).
The film begins with an introduction to Will (Oscar Isaac) whose life is in a bit of a rut. He spends his time visiting his shrink (Annette Bening) discussing how the love of his life, Abby (Olivia Wilde) left him. Will is clearly going through a mental breakdown of some sorts, as the writer-director Dan Fogelman, spends a great deal of time dragging out a not very funny scene of Will going all ‘Falling down’ in the middle of a coffee shop. He’s a tortured writer who has a drinking problem (treated as a joke) and has done a stint in a mental institution (also treated as a joke). If the film’s opening five minutes aren’t enough to make you want to run out of the theatre demanding your money back, there’s another 112 minutes to follow.
The film’s narrative is told in five extremely long and boring chapters (you know, chapters like in a book, how clever, right?!) In the first chapter, Will and Abby fall in love. There’s a scene where they go to a party dressed like John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction (ah, yes. Nothing says romance, like a Tarantino film). It’s when you see the characters dressed like this, that you suddenly realise that you could be watching Pulp Fiction instead. In this scene, Will asks Abby to marry him and threatens suicide if she says no (and this is meant to be funny?!). Abby does marry him and they soon have a daughter called Dylan, who is named after Bob Dylan who Abby is a huge fan of. Tragedy strikes, and in Chapter two we follow a grown-up Dylan (Olivia Cooke), who is dealing with her own issues. And, three more chapters dealing with love, loss and life follow (if you can stay awake, that is), with the film’s location switching to Spain, where there’s love triangle between olive-picker Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), local waitress and “fourth prettiest of six sisters” Bella (Laia Costa) and rich-guy landowner Vincent (Antonio Banderas).
There’s that joke in Family Guy where Peter expresses his love for films where the character says the name of the film. Family Guy is mocking how many films have a tendency to do this as if the audience isn’t aware of the title of the film they have paid to see. Life Itself has its characters say the film’s title, and it’s an utterly groan worthy moment. The film is littered with bad, cringe-worthy dialogue such as ‘’Abby, I’m waiting for the right moment cause when I ask you out, there’s not gonna be any turning back for me. I’m not gonna date anybody else for the rest of my life. I’m not gonna love anybody else for the rest of my life.’’ It’s so cheesy and corny that it’s reminiscent of Fifty Shades of Grey. How Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde managed to keep a straight face and deliver their lines without bursting into hysterical laughter, is an absolute mystery.
Isaac is a charming and talented actor but even he can’t save this movie. Will is the type of person who would be locked away if he was around in reality, he’s a borderline stalker who would be better off suited in the Netflix series You rather than a romantic drama. Wilde’s Abby is an example of a manic pixie dream girl, which says it all. The film’s chapters set in Spain with Banderas is the most enjoyable, but it takes a long time to get there and you have to sit through some dreadful scenes which just feel so uncomfortable to watch.
What is most puzzling is the fact that the entire film, despite covering four generations of people, all seems to take place in the present day. There’s nothing to differentiate the varied time periods, which makes the film a confusing mess. The film feels like the first draft of Fogelman’s script, and one that he had to turn in order to meet a deadline. One has to wonder what he was attempting to do and whether he had an actual plan in mind when he put pen to paper. There’s another film called Life Itself, (a wonderful documentary about the life and career of the renowned film critic and social commentator, Roger Ebert), go watch that instead.
Directed by: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Olvia Wilde, Annette Bening, Mandy Patinkin