Review: Life itself too short for 'Life Itself'

It's 'This is Us: The Movie,' this time with more swear words!

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac in "Life Itself."

The cinematic device of a character standing in the street and suddenly getting walloped by a car or bus has become such a cliche in recent years that audiences now know to expect it whenever they see someone linger in a crosswalk for a beat too long. 

"This is Us" creator Dan Fogelman didn't get the memo. His hacky, embarrassingly shlocky "Life Itself" hinges on the occurrence, and that may be the least of its crimes against cinema. 

"Life Itself," like Fogelman's TV show, is a multi-generation story that doesn't reveal itself as such until the time is right. Gotcha! He leans on so many of the trappings of his TV show that "Life Itself" plays like "This is Us: The Movie," but freed of the shackles of network TV, he tosses around F-bombs like a 1st grader who just learned the word. 

"Life Itself" does everything to make you hate it and its characters from the get go. Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde) are a couple so insufferable that they name their dog after the F-word, so sympathy is tough to garner when tragedy strikes.

But of course tragedy strikes, because Fogelman doesn't know how to create moments if he's not jerking at heart strings like he's in a tug of war with viewers' emotions. Toughen up, his cheap tricks aren't worth your tears. 

In a separate (but connected!) story, Antonio Banderas is a land owner in Spain; he's one of the only characters who doesn't go on and on about Bob Dylan and "To Make You Feel My Love," which appears in at least five different versions in the film. (Olivia Cooke's character performs a "punk" cover of the song that comes across exactly how you think Fogelman's idea of punk rock would.) 

Fogelman wants audiences to feel his love, but the only tools at his disposal are sap and cheese, which he hits viewers with like an errant bus driver. "Life Itself" is an atrocity, one of the year's worst films. Fogelman wanted tragic, and he certainly found it.


'Life Itself'


Rated R for language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use

Running time: 118 minutes