FIN REVIEW: Life Itself a contrived drama rescued by key performances

I could tell from the fact the audience was given kleenex on the way in that we were in for a rocky road.

Life Itself is a new work from Dan Fogelman, the creator of This Is Us and writer of Crazy Stupid Love. I knew the melodramatics I was getting myself into, but I wasn’t ready for just how manipulative the film would be.

It works as an on-screen anthology revolving around the lives of a number of loosely interconnected people.

We start with a beautiful, passionate couple Will and Abby, and their relationship.

We’re told about the difficulties through flashbacks, as Will, who is an absolute mess present day, keeps recounting the moments before his wife left him.

He relays these thoughts to the audience through sit-downs with his therapist Dr. Cait Morris, played by Annette Bening.

For two hours, you will be witness to some terribly tragic, undeniably sad material, and if you have a heart, Life Itself will leave you devastated and then pick you back up by the end.

Oscar Isaac is a revelation as a heartbroken, lonely man, and Antonio Banderas gives his best performance in years. In between are similarly rich turns from Olivia Wilde, Bening, Mandy Patinkin and Spanish actor Sergio Peris-Mencheta.

These actors elevate the melodramatic material at almost every turn, and without them, this would have been a severe misfire. Instead, it stands as a missed opportunity for greatness.

If Fogelman’s job was to make everyone in his audience whimper, regardless of whether the turns or events fit the tone or ideas of the script, he succeeded.

But what’s so difficult is anyone who’s seen his show knows he can do better. We expected better.

Life Itself, just as in real life, is a victim of high expectation versus a ho-hum reality. This film is just that: average, when it could have been so much more.

3/5 Stars


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