Life Itself

I couldn't get into Dan Fogelman's This Is Us when it premiered in 2016. I gave it two episodes before I decided not to watch it. It was specifically because it felt hollow and designed to surprise audiences into feeling emotional through narrative manipulation and broad characterizations instead of genuinely finding the emotion and surprise in the story and characters.

So it's not a surprise to me that Life Itself suffers from those same issues. It's an interconnected story telling multiple groups of characters' stories. With the exception of Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde's portion of the movie, none of the characters are interesting. They're not given enough time to be interesting and the time they are given is spent manipulating the audience in the hopes of eliciting emotion in the theater.

Tragedy befalls characters in ways that are rarely clever or earned. The narrator tells us verbatim what to feel and what characters themselves are feeling multiple times throughout the movie. So much so that the movie honestly feels like Fogelman was writing a novel, decided to make it a movie, and just decided to adapt the descriptive parts of the novel into a narration in the movie. It's that bad.

There are decent moments in the movie, I guess. Olivia Cooke is good, for as brief a time as we see her. As I said before, Wilde and Isaac stand out, but not that much because they are marred by overdone dialogue describing their feelings. Giving the performers not much to work with.

The movie meanders through its middle and last 3rds toward its predictable ending. As harsh as it sounds, I feel like you'd have to be as dense as Fogelman seems to think his audience is not to see the ending coming a mile away.

At the end of the day, Life Itself feels like a hastily written cash-in on the mega success of This Is Us. It's filled with underdeveloped characters and plot contrivances that try so freaking hard to get its audience emotional without putting in the effort needed for that response.

Reviewed in Episode 250 of The Obsessive Viewer Podcast.

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