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The division between television shows and films has been present since the beginning of both mediums, but as time goes on, television seems to be growing into a much more cinematic offering. With shows like Stranger Things or Game of Thrones (and many others), television is rapidly evolving. On the other hand, it can’t really go the other way. If a television show feels like the quality of a feature film, people will praise it until the end of time, but the reverse is usually frowned upon. Life Itself has the talent of writer/director Dan Fogleman (Danny Collins, This Is Us) at the helm, and while his efforts are definitely present, this movie feels like a television show that has been running for weeks but condensed to fit a two hour run time. Here’s why I believe Life Itself doesn’t quite work as a film.
The plot of the movie is a spoiler in itself, so I’ll refrain from going too deep here. Life Itself follows a couple who met each other at a young age but are no longer together. Their love story sets the rest of the film in motion, making for an experience that just wants to connect people through time. This film tries very hard to pull at your heartstrings and it almost deals with death a little too often. Death is far too present throughout the course of this film, making for a very sober experience. Life Itself isn’t afraid to go all out when trying to make something sappy feel authentic and raw, but I don’t think it always accomplishes its goal.
Life Itself has a cast that deserved to be in a far better film. From Oscar Isaac to Olivia Wilde, Antonio Banderas to Annette Benning, and even the little screen time that performers like Olivia Cooke receive are all stellar from beginning to end. Tears will be shed by many, due to the sheer notion that these actors and actresses make this screenplay much better than it truly is. The screenplay itself is fine if it had been written as a short film, which leads me to my next point.
The story for this film is actually quite good and may have been incredible if it had been told as a short film with not much dialogue or a ten-episode television show that fleshes out everything that felt too brief. We are given barely enough time with each character to truly care about where this story ends up throughout the final act, so I found myself latching onto early moments in the movie that had me genuinely shocked. The first act of this movie boasts a fantastic sequence involving Oscar Isaac’s character in Will. I was hoping that the effectiveness that these specific moments brought to the movie would continue on, but they sort of fell by the wayside, in favour of linking storylines for the sake of an emotional twist.
This is a film that’s broken up into segments that may or may not eventually link together and audiences are asked to go along with many new stories, in hopes that it means something later in the film. I enjoyed each segment of the film for the most part, but the surprises just felt forced, in my opinion. Everything felt too convenient and obvious when certain elements came into play by the conclusion, but it’s done in such a way that will most likely have some people weeping. I did find myself tearing up on a few occasions, but only due to either a performance or how a specific connection was made. It’s well done, but not as a feature film. That may seem like a cop-out explanation, but I definitely feel that this film would’ve been so much better as something else.
In the end, Life Itself does benefit from solid direction by Dan Fogleman. He was able to ring out some terrific performances here and piece this movie together in a way that may be clever to some viewers, but it really didn’t work for me. This is the type of film that probably won’t be received well by critics, due to the overall execution of it, but I can see audiences getting wrapped up in the emotional core of the movie as a whole. I fell somewhere in the middle of those two, feeling underwhelmed by the execution, but impressed at the effort made in attempting something different. I can’t personally recommend this movie as a great film, but if you enjoy a bit of sap and a good cry, you may find some enjoyment out of Life Itself.