REVIEW: Life Itself is Uneven Emotion

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Life Itself

Directed by Dan FogelmanLife Itself follows a young New York couple as they go from college romance to marriage and finally the birth of their first child. However, the unexpected twists Life Itself creates reverberations that echo over continents and through lifetimes. Described as a romance and drama, it stars Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Anette Benning, and Antonio Banderas.

Considering Given Fogelman’s work on This is Us, the format of this movie would surprise no one. Intersecting stories from different points in time coming together around a pivotal moment. But it’s where these stories come from, who is telling them, and how they fit together in the puzzle of life that is not only lovely but also devastating and at some point hilarious.

In a movie that embraces devastating its audience, the characters’ deliveries of perfectly timed dark humor, particularly from Oscar Isaac’s love-sick character, that make the movie hit every single emotional chamber in your heart. I can not think of a single emotion not experienced while watching this movie.

Life Itself

I’m having a hard time finding out how to review this film without giving anything away. There are so many pieces tied to others that in stating one, you start connecting dots. From narration, song choices, locations, and mundane moments within a scene that don’t look like they would amount to anything, it’s all connected. The movie pulls a musical reference made during a conversation our young couple at the beginning of the film through every other intersection and moment it highlights. As the film ends, we realize that the stories themselves, the entirety of the two-hour-plus movie is built on a foundation of that same song and artist.

I have so many positive things to say about the movie but all of them are choices made in the twists and turns of the lives of our heroes. Each character, as they get their focus pieces come to life and the actors behind them pull you into the screen. None more so than Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde. Although I am not happy that Isaac’s parents were not played by Latinx actors, his dynamic with every person he is on screen with makes that melt away.

As Will, Isaac is a soul-crushing delight onscreen and the chemistry he has with Abby, Wilde, is unmatched by anyone else I’ve seen together on film this year. But he shines when the camera is just on him. He has the ability to make you laugh, cry, and ultimately feel everything he is feeling in the scene. It should come to no surprise, to fans of Isaac’s other roles – especially outside his role in Star Wars, that Isaac’s performance truly is the best and most moving part of the film.

The negative point that I have is that the movie itself feels too separate. Now, this maybe because of the style it is shot through. The connecting stories work for the first half of the movie but as the setting shifts in the middle, the storytelling is slower-paced and not as engrossing as the first half. The dark comedic thread and charisma of the first half are met with a quite Andalusian life that although there is also trauma isn’t nearly as dynamic as the first half of the movie. Whether it’s because the actors don’t reach out and grab you like Isaac and Wilde or because it was purposeful to show a change in style, it is a little jarring.

Life Itself

As a moving story within a story within a story, I understand the concept, and I am a fan of it. However, by adding an entirely new setting and family of characters it loses its tone. Had the stories within focus were only those from the beginning it would be almost perfect, albeit dark but we would understand. Unfortunately, as the generations, we follow extend and the number of families involved grows, it almost becomes too crowded.

That being said, the stylistic choice to use different versions of one song throughout the whole film pulls things together, especially for fans of Bob Dylan. It maps one feeling onto the stories and that feeling morphs in it’s setting and the cover of the song being played. It is sad, it is happy, it is angry, it is love. This constant is what kept me engrossed in the story even in moments when the acting didn’t.

As the movie concludes, this issue is solved and the pieces come crashing together. The humor comes back, the deep emotion comes back, and it ends with a realization that pieces together every tiny moment that you just sat through. If you’re a fan of characters, feelings, and lives told through intersections, this is a must-see.

From Amazon Studios, Life Itself releases nationwide September 21st.

Life Itself
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

In a movie that embraces devastating its audience, the characters’ deliveries of perfectly timed dark humor, particularly from Oscar Isaac’s love-sick character, that make the movie hit every single emotional chamber in your heart. I can not think of a single emotion not experienced while watching this movie.