Life Itself

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LIFE ITSELF was stamped out of existence by critics upon release in 2018, attacked en masse with a venom verging on comical, way out of all proportion to whatever deficits the movie has. Top-heavy with enough tragedy for three films, the script is the weak link—in a movie about links—but some worthwhile performances hold the interest.

Writer-director Dan Fogelman (best known for the TV series This Is Us) draws up a labyrinthine plotline involving multiple couples over three generations in several locations, with the thread of a single traumatic event bringing them into alignment. Fine actors are in the mix—Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Antonio Banderas, Mandy Patinkin, Annette Bening. Samuel L. Jackson cameos.

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Critical pasting on the order of the bombing of Dresden certainly didn’t help, but for one reason or another audiences failed to materialize to cover the $10,000,000 cost. ‘Life‘ expired at 181st place in the States, amassing a worldwide gross of just $7,790,271.

Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Laia Costa in Life Itself (2018)

Yet it’s worth noting that on “Rotten Tomatoes”, the disparity between reviewers and ordinary fans is whopping, a brutal 14% from critics vs. an enthusiastic 83% from regular humans. Fogelman and his cast obviously thought they were doing something of value. Patinkin said it was “the greatest screenplay I’ve ever read.” Bening’s husband Warren Beatty was moved to tears seeing it. A studio bidding war between between Paramount, Universal and Amazon went up to $10,000,000 for distribution rights, unheard of for a small independent film. When it premiered in Toronto, the way critics went after it you’d think Fogelman had raped their grandmother.  From this corner, a meek suggestion:  watch if you’re curious, then go through the write-ups and see if you are somehow so offended that you hate it as much as the ‘experts’. I didn’t. ‘Enjoy’ isn’t really the right word for a movie with so much pain inflicted on its characters, but while I’m not a particular fan of the film, neither do I think it deserved the death by the red ants of Keyboardland. *

117 minutes, with Jean Smart, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Laia Costa, Alex Monner, Isabel Durant, Lorenza Izzo.

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* A sample from a critic not content to rip the movie but so confident in their own intellectual superiority (and presumably film-making skills—the sort possessed by maybe one reviewer out of 1,000) that they make sure to insult anyone who may be Nazi enough to enjoy it—Kate Erbland of IndieWire lets you know “Life Itself thinks you’re stupid. Or, if not stupid, unable to understand how a movie should work. It’s a movie made for people who can’t be trusted to understand any storytelling unless it’s not just spoon-fed but ladled on, piled high, and explained via montage and voiceover.”   How very nice. Friends, many?

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