If you thought the last two seasons of This Is Us prepared you for Dan Fogelman’s latest tear-jerker you would be absolutely right – you’re advised to bring tissues.
Life Itself, which celebrated its UK premiere earlier this week at the London Film Festival, dives into a number of lives, told through five chapters and over no less than three generations. It takes the audience on a journey from the bustling streets of New York City to the lush Spanish countryside and back.
To speak too much of the plot of Life Itself would be a disservice to its complexity, and the beauty behind Fogelman’s storytelling. If you want to do yourselves a favor, watch this film unspoiled.
Life Itself was written and directed by Fogelman, whose previous feature film credits include Crazy Stupid Love and Tangled, and stars a plethora of Hollywood’s finest including Olivia Wilde, Oscar Isaac, Olivia Cooke, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening and Mandy Patinkin.
Just like life itself this movie will bring you to your knees. It will make you feel to the point of numbness and will keep you on your toes. It’s a constant roller coaster with never ending number of ups and downs. It will make you wonder whether you’ve already experienced the highs and lows of your own life and whether you’ve affected not just your own but also someone else’s narrative.
Narrative plays a big part in the movie, as Wilde’s character Abby explores “life as the ultimate unreliable narrator” in her college thesis, a theme which weaves itself throughout the whole film. Whether the film proves or disproves that thesis is up for interpretation.
Life itself offers a phenomenal ensemble cast, with memorable performances by every single main character, but particularly Isaac and Cooke (despite her limited screen time). The characters play off of each other wonderfully. With a lesser script and a lesser cast, this movie may not be able to deliver the same emotional sophistication.
The first chapter is the film’s strongest, without a doubt. Wilde and Isaac have an unbelievable on-screen chemistry that is only enhanced by Fogelman’s words. The first chapter also explores serious mental health issues and, weirdly so, it does so through humor. While it certainly does make the subject easier to digest, the light-heartedness simultaneously irritates. Unfortunately, the light-heartedness of the film lasts no longer than 30 minutes.
The film manages to surprise you in a way that not many have been able to do in recent years and features a powerful and poignant scene at the end of that first chapter that should certainly come with a trigger warning. The 30 seconds of silence that immediately follow the first chapter feel incredibly loud.
But the film isn’t perfect. It drags in parts, particularly around the middle, which makes you lose focus. Its timelines can get rather confusing, and take you out of the situation. Often the film barely offers you enough time to get attached to core characters.
Nonetheless, the beauty of Life Itself is Fogelman’s unique ability to create several stories that ultimately become intricately interwoven and create a heart-breaking yet uplifting narrative.
Life Itself hits UK theatres January 4, 2019.