If you can make it to the end of Life Itself than first of all you deserve a medal. Secondly you will encounter a scene where a narrator (one of many) will describe to you that the Bob Dylan song “Make You Feel My Love” was panned by critics during its initial release because it felt too out of place and sentimental. Why does this matter? Well because Life Itself, the latest, and most painful, film by Dan Fogelman refers to the song continuously throughout his emotional train wreck and you quickly realize that Fogelman just compared his low level film to a Bob Dylan song. Critics have already started panning this film and Fogelman is ready for the attacks. Does that make him brave? Hell no, it just makes him plain stupid and the creator of the worst film of the year and quite possibly the most insulting film in ages.
Fogelman wants to remind you that you are an idiot. Life Itself is a product of a filmmaker who doesn’t believe his audience can figure out anything without it being spelled out for them. Therefore, he starts out his film which is filled with unreliable narrators by giving you an unreliable narrator, only to then follow it up with a lesson on what an unreliable narrator is. (Spoiler alerts to follow, but also seen a mile away) We are first introduced to our “hero” who witnesses a woman getting hit by a bus. Have no fear because we quickly learn that he is not our hero, and this is jut a faux film being narrated by Samuel L. Jackson (yes you read that right) in a thankless cameo. It is revealed to us quickly that this fake story is being written by Will (Oscar Isaac in a career ruining performance) a man who can only feel love which has now led him to depression. Will loves Abbey (Olivia Wilde) his manic pixie girlfriend who shares his love for Tarantino movies and Bob Dylan songs. He explains his time with Abbey to his therapist (Annette Benning) in a serious of flashbacks forcing us to ask, “Where is Abbey now” (As if you don’t already know). Abbey is scared by how by how much Will loves her and even goes as far as delivering lines such as “I don’t believe I am capable of such love” (I can’t make this up). She eventually agrees to marry him after he jokingly threatens to kill himself (Fogelman doing his best at minimizing suicide to a knee slapper). But all seems to be going well for the couple, they are married with a baby on the way which only brings us to chapter two (Oh did I mention this movie is told in chapters, just like a book hmmm I wonder who the final narrator could be)
Our hero in chapter two is a twenty-one-year-old girl named Dylan (after Bob Dylan crazy!) who is played by Olivia Cooke as, you guessed it, an angsty pixie girl with red punk rock hair. Dylan is obviously the child of Will and Abbey, but lives with her grandfather (Mandy Patinkin) because well tragedy. Much like Chapter 1 Dylan’s story is a mere set up to get us to another chapter all the way in Spain where hard working farmer Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) has just been promoted by his employer (Antonio Banderas) to oversee his entire land. This great news for Javier because now he can marry his one true love Isabella (Laia Costa) and start a family. But if Fogelman has taught us anything it is that family often means tragedy. Twist and turns are nonstop including a mother getting cancer, a child witnessing a woman getting killed by a bus, and of course men risking everything for their lady can have it all.
Subtlety has never been Fogelman’s forte. After all this is the man who invented “This is Us” a show that strives on emotional manipulation. But manipulation isn’t the only game at hand here. In the span of two hours Fogelman also finds time to minimize both sexual assault and suicide to comic gags, give us graphic visuals of deceased bodies, and to top it all off have the ending speech given to us by a Spanish lady be delivered in English because, “Spanish doesn’t always translate well.” Fogelman wants you to enjoy your life just as long as you are constantly reminded of the inevitable. So, thank you Dan Fogelman, you have explained (mansplained?) to everyone why life is worth living, but how does one go about pulling the plug on your career.
Grade: F (my first and hopefully only)
Director: Dan Fogelman
Rated: R for language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use