Life Itself, D+
Rated R, 117 minutes
"Life is a Depressing Slog" could be the alternate title of the new drama "Life Itself" from "This is Us" creator Dan Fogelman, a film devoid of any real joy or a good story. Using the same story structure as Fogelman's hit, Emmy-winning TV show, we realize a couple of things: this works much better on the small screen, and never step out into the street in the big city without looking, which happens so often here it'll make you scream.
The film tells the story of a young New York couple (Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde) who go from college romance to marriage and the birth of their first child, who experience unexpected twists in their journey create reverberations that echo over continents and through lifetimes.
"Life Itself," directed and written by Fogelman, is an unfortunate mess of a film whose central premise is that life provides many unexpected twists and turns; however Fogelman is so focused on the soapy, dramatic tragedy that he overlooks one key: that life can also be filled with tremendous joy and pleasantries. He glosses over that right to the melodrama filled with suicide, disease, divorce and family dysfunction, all of which is enough to bring even the most positive person down.
It's truly unfortunate for a couple of main reasons, for one it wastes a fine, talented cast, including Isaac, Wilde, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas and Emmy-winner Mandy Patinkin, most of whom slog through its awful, misplaced first two acts. It doesn't really evolve until its Spain-set third act featuring Banderas, and you realize the film should've really had its focus here and then branched out.
Fogelman is so intent to throw so much tragedy in "Life Itself" that you don't get a chance to become attached to these characters, you simply see them reacting to one tragedy after another. Also, the first few minutes, featuring Samuel L. Jackson in a cameo that is both seen and heard, is genuinely unfunny and distracting.
"Life Itself" has a handful of likable moments, and the semi-compelling last act tries to make up for what came before it, but it's a big misfire from the guy who made you cry with "This is Us." You'll cry here too, but for all the wrong reasons.