By Jordan Geriane
From the creators of the critically acclaimed NBC show “This is Us,” director Dan Fogelman brings us another emotionally draining film featuring five haphazardly interconnected stories. Although these stories tie the theme of the everlasting power of love like a big red bow on top, it only occurs at the very last second. The film “Life Itself” stars a talented ensemble including Olivia Wilde, Oscar Isaac, Mandy Patinkin and Antonio Banderas.
Despite the star-studded group, the execution of a once promising yet predictable film about life, loss, love and growth could not have been more rushed and seemingly written in an attempt to be the movie version of “This is Us.”
Fogelman and the writers pack the overall plot with death. Death and tragedy is graphically present in every corner of the movie, mostly inflicting every mother and father with bus accidents, cancer and suicide. Within the tragedy stricken plot are five distinct chapters. Each chapter revolves around a different person with a different life and a different tragedy that strikes their hearts.
The first chapter is entitled “The Hero” and follows a widowed man named Will Dempsey (Oscar Isaac) who lost his wife, Abby (Olivia Wilde), to a tragic bus accident just before their daughter was born. His chapter ends strangely and abruptly about ten minutes into the film, leaving no room for the audience to comprehend his sorrows or build any empathy for him. We are left with the superficial acting Isaac put into Will Dempsey.
By the second chapter, we meet stone-cold, 21 year old Dylan Dempsey who is portrayed by Olivia Cooke. In another rushed chapter of the film, we witness Cooke portray the struggles of this young woman who is pained by the loss of everyone around her and is inflicted with depression as well. We witness her entire life shown through a series of chopped up moments that give little to no time for the audience to formulate an opinion on this character or even Cooke’s acting for that matter as her emotions are rarely displayed. But by the end of her chapter, we finally get to see a glimpse of Dylan grappling with all the pain she has bottled up as she cries alone in the dead of night. By the time this scene rolls around, there is only a sliver of empathy for Dylan as the pain she portrays seeps into audiences’ hearts.
The third and fourth chapters revolve around an unrenowned ensemble of actors amongst the American film industry (excluding Antonio Banderas) but play the most redeeming, well-developed and well-acted roles in the entire movie. In these following chapters, the film takes viewers all the way to Spain to meet the Gonzalez family who build and lead a simple, lower-class life on a beautiful olive plantation.
The Gonzalez family, Vince Saccione (Antonio Banderas), Javier Gonzalez (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Isabel Gonzalez (Laia Costa) presented an authentic example of a working class family simply trying to make ends meet despite all forces of nature.
By the end of the third and fourth chapters, Fogelman and this particular group of actors finally convey the emotion and passion viewers have been expecting from the makers of “This Is Us.” Banderas, Peris-Mencheta and Costa display scenes of a family surrounded by nothing but internal and external battles, loss and eventually, love and forgiveness.
As quick as that finale came, so did the tears. To most viewers, this chapter of the film is the most heart-wrenching and “This is Us”-esque as the many missing puzzle pieces are finally found at the very end of the film, creating an emotional rollercoaster for everyone. While the goodbye scenes and heartwarming revelations of each character’s connections to each other creates a lump in audience’s throats, it is sadly not enough to make up for the lack of plot, climax and character development in what looked like a beautiful and promising film.
Three out of five torches