Dateworthy? “Life Itself”
Is “Life Itself” worth a weekend date night? Yes!
This beautifully written and performed film is from Dan Fogelman. He’s the creator of the hit TV series “This Is Us.” The new film, “Life Itself” has all the feels as it follows four intertwining stories that powerfully come together. The pro-life subtext helps make this film one of the best in years!
In a cinematic landscape increasingly dominated by effects-driven spectacles, Hollywood doesn’t seem to make tearjerker films anymore. Movies like “Brian’s Song,” “Love Story” and “Titanic” packed an emotional wallop rooted in characters that viewers care about deeply. But writer-director Dan Fogelman has been filling that gap weekly on television for the past two seasons with the smash hit NBC series “This Is Us.”
Now he’s hitting the multiplex with “Life Itself.” This movie is guaranteed to make viewers cry for two hours. You’ll find yourself counting your blessings and reconsidering life choices. Fogelman tells the story in five different book-like chapters. Each story follows a different character. The plot leaps through time frames, countries, and inventive narration techniques. Fogelman keeps viewers on their toes throughout as he finds fascinating ways to bring the seemingly disparate tales together.
Unusual narration and major surprises
The movie opens with Samuel L. Jackson narrating as himself. He drops MF-bombs galore as usual. He’s telling the story of a guy named Will (Oscar Isaac) and his therapist (Annette Bening). The therapy session works through a tragedy that has left Will emotionally shaken and a hopeless alcoholic. Just when the viewer is drawn into their intense interpersonal dynamic, the session ends. The therapist heads home through busy New York streets, and then is killed by a bus. That’s just the the first of several utterly jarring moments throughout the film.
The camera cuts to Jackson in the crowd of onlookers. He throws his hands up in the air, saying he can’t handle the shock. Jackson literally walks off the screen and out of the movie. A female voice takes over for the rest of the film. But Fogelman has managed to knock viewers on their heels, making them realize that anything can happen in this tale.
Will and Abby are the center of the film’s first chapter. The story unfolds between Will’s destructive behavior in the present and the dawn of love and hope that brought them together and formed their marriage and her pregnancy. But when two tragedies strike, the story jumps to follow the life of their daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke). She winds up raised by her doting grandfather Irwin (Mandy Patinkin). But she then turns out an embittered 21-year-old shrieking punk versions of classic love songs in dingy clubs.
Two love stories intertwine, from the streets of New York City to a rural Spanish farm
Meanwhile, the story leaps to Spain. Viewers follow the story of an olive picker named Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) who is madly in love with his wife Isabel (Laia Costa). They’re awaiting the birth of their son, Rigo (Alex Monner).
Mr. Saccione, (Antonio Banderas) Javier’s boss, puts him in charge of the pickers. This enables Javier and his family to move into a beautiful house on the farm for free. Life seems to be perfect. But then unexpected circumstances make him feel he has to step out of their lives in order to keep them safe and secure.
It’s hard to reveal much more about the plot of “Life Itself” without ruining its tremendous impact. Every one of the stories draws viewers in tensely into the characters’ lives. Then the film delivers a stunning blow, before ultimately interweaving the tales together in a way that is not only brilliant but profoundly uplifting.
A refreshingly pro-life spirit permeates the film
The movie has an undeniable love for marriage and family. The beauty of pregnancy is showcased throughout its stories. There is also an interesting sequence in which a young woman tells her boyfriend she’s pregnant. She far too blithely says that abortion is an easy option for them to follow.
When the boyfriend looks shocked at her callow consideration of abortion, the nominally Jewish woman asks if he’s offended by the idea as a Christian. Still in shock, he doesn’t answer.
But when she reveals that her story has all been an April Fool’s joke, it is clear that writer-director Fogelman and the boyfriend regard her with horror. Her boyfriend instantly breaks up with her.
The young man is eventually revealed to have married another woman and had many children and grandchildren. This seems to be a very clear take down of the low regard pro-abortion women have for the lives of the unborn.
It’s not just a romantic film, but a film that will make you consider your entire life
This is a gentle film between the shocking moments. It’s filled with detailed characters, emotional nuances and great performances. These are all qualities in short supply in today’s film marketplace. These days, more human stories are often also subjected to Oscar-seeking bombast with self-important themes rather than simply giving us people to care about and relate with.
Lest this kind of description makes it sound like a Hallmark TV movie, be aware that the opening story of Will has a ton of foul language in it. There’s more language than you’ll find in most R-rated movies outside of a Scorsese Mafia film. Although this choice fits somewhat in the context of Will’s drunk and traumatized emotional state. The rest of the movie has much less profanity.
A few plot twists are shocking enough to be gasp-inducing.
Inducing such strong emotional responses is a good thing. “Life Itself” makes viewers feel the full range of human emotions, all in the space of two hours. The film should leave them contemplating who and what people and circumstances affect them personally in their own lives
Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station www.radiotitans.com in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site Movieguide.org, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.