Life Itself (2 stars)

Life Itself

Overambitious, soap opera-style drama from This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman

A hit television series like This Is Us wins you a lot of good will. Life Itself trades on that as series creator Dan Fogelman unleashes a sprawling, unruly, multi-generational tearjerker that attempts to transfer his TV template to the more constricted space of a two-hour movie. The result is a hugely ambitious but deeply flawed soap opera that gallops through an exhausting roll call of births, deaths, broken hearts and life-changing bombshells.

Unreliable narrators and imperfect men are the recurring themes in a film divided into five chapters. Fogelman begins playfully enough, with a focus on Will (Oscar Isaac) and conversations with therapist Cait (Annette Bening) in which he tentatively confronts the giddy highs and bruising lows of his marriage to Abby (Olivia Wilde).

Fogelman comes storming out of the gate with a feverish burst of energy, wise-cracking narration from a sardonic Samuel L Jackson (who also appears) and a mix of helter-skelter dialogue and manic characters that suggests the influence of Preston Sturges. The film gradually widens the circle to include the lives of Will and Abby's friends, family, loved ones and subsequent generations, including their fierce daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke, who makes the most of her modest screen time). The mood becomes more reflective when the story shifts to Spain and philosophical olive grower Saccione (Antonio Banderas).

We do eventually learn all the ties that bind the characters to each other but to get there we are subjected to a manic, messy film in which Fogelman seems to be working his way through a random selection of styles like a child delving into a dressing-up box. Screwball comedy gives way to breathless romance and then sentimental melodrama. It is a film that feels restless and agitated, offering glib thoughts on profound matters.

General release and on Sky Cinema from Fri 4 Jan.

Life Itself

  • 2 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 58min
  • Directed by: Dan Fogelman
  • Cast: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening, Mandy Patinkin
  • UK release: 4 January 2018

Story of Will (Isaac) and his conversations with therapist Cait (Bening) about his marriage to Abby (Wilde), broadening out to encompass many other lives. Sprawling, unruly, multi-generational tearker which goes through a random selection of styles and ultimately offers glib thoughts on profound matters.