I’d love to see what writer/director Dan Fogelman could do with a script that’s not heavily dependent on tragedy for a plot device. THAT’S where we’d see what kind of game this guy has.
First off, full credit to Fogelman….’This Is Us’ is one of TV’s shining lights, emotionally-charged and brilliant at delivering a good case of the feels to even the most crustiest of viewers. He attempts to do much the same with ‘Life Itself’, a multigenerational saga aimed at making audiences laugh, cry and connect with those moments that deliver both an initial smack, felt for years to come.
It’s a a nice effort. But the bushel of miscalculations – combined with the overall stench of pure shlock – grounds this baby before it even has a chance to hit its stride. And part of the problem is that darn great TV show.
Broken up into chapters, the film initially serves up the tale of Will Dempsey (Oscar Isaac), explaining via a conversation with his psychiatrist (Annette Bening) how his wife Abby (Olivia Wilde) leaving him has completely destroyed him. Later chapters include a surly teen (Olivia Cooke), dealing with an overabundance of unfortunate incidents in her life, and a wealthy landowner in Spain (Antonio Banderas), and the loving couple who live on his property (Laia Costa and Sergio Peris-Menchata). Somehow, all stories are connected by not only circumstance, but one single event that took only seconds to transpire, yet has a snowball effect on each and every life for years to come.
Intrigued? So was I. Yet, part of the problem with ‘Life Itself’? The characters are tough to cheer for. Heck, they’re hard to LIKE. Early glimpses of Will and Abby’s life together can best be described as slightly cloying. And, save for a brief yet captivating monologue by Banderas, no one in this ensemble will have you outright rooting for their ultimate contentment. Too much melodrama, too many Bob Dylan references, too many nods to ‘Serendipity’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and numerous other pop culture servings smarter than this.
And, again, the prime culprit? ‘This Is Us’. Fogelman has become reliant on tools that consist of sap and cheese, which he pummels his viewers with here like a distracted bus driver. Oh, speaking of which…….a lot of people get hit by a bus in this movie. Like……a LOT.