Filled with love, laughter, poignant moments and full body blows, Life Itself flows effortlessly between the lives of 7 main characters. Released in the UK tomorrow, it’s written, produced and directed by Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love and This Is Us).
Fogelman is most well known for his show This Is Us, the weekly tear fest that has broken the hearts of half of America. The family love at the heart of that show is clear to see in Life Itself, and whilst it does at times feel like a movie version of the show, as a huge fan this didn’t bother me one bit. The big screen also allowed a bit more creative freedom, with losses that are darker, more visceral, the pain more sharp.
The film feels like two separate stories, and it’s hard to remember when watching the beautiful landscape of rural Spain that only 30 minutes earlier we were in the harsh realities of a New York psychiatrist office. But in the hands of Fogelman, it flows, and the threads are woven together throughout, tying together neatly at the end.
Our New York chapters focus on young couple Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde) as we see the end, beginning and middle of their great love. Isaac and Wilde play it effortlessly, and whilst at times it’s hard to believe them as young freshman, their chemistry works on the screen. Isaac plays double duty as present day Will, retelling this story from therapists chair after a mental breakdown, painfully retelling the same stories three times over – were they really in love, or is his version of events as unreliable as the opening of the film?
We then move to the story of Dylan Dempsey (Olivia Cooke and Kya Kruse), a girl so surrounded by death that she wonders if she’ll ever be free of it. Cooke gives a wild yet nuanced performance, however Kruse as young Dempsey stole the show for me. The scene with her grandfather (Mandy Patinkin), as they say all the words they could never say had me choked up, but it was her final goodbye to canine best friend, the dog who belonged to her deceased parents, that had me absolutely bawling. “Tell them I’m nice” she whispers, tucking a photo of her parents in to his paws.
After the New York chapters we move to rural Spain for the complicated romance of young lovers Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Elena (Lorenza Izzo) and his lonely boss Mr Saccione (Antonio Banderas) who becomes overly involved in their lives and the life of their young son.
Filmed in Spain and spoken mostly in Spanish, it feels epic, romantic and pure. A simple life, a simple love and an accident that changes all their worlds forever.
I could gush all day about how much I loved this film, but it’s hard to discuss what works so well without spoiling the plot. As with This Is Us, my biggest takeaway was how beautifully Fogelman is able to deal with grief, the painful web it creates in a heart, that never really leaves the person. His hand guides the audience to see these breaks within the characters, yet also see the light around them, the wondrous joys and highs a person can feel, even at their lowest. Fogelman has discussed this style choice as a very personal one. At the age of 30 he lost his mother unexpectedly, describing the loss as a full body blow that changed his life forever, yet within a year he had met his wife and the love of his life. Fogelman uses these experiences and many others within the film to ultimately create a thoughtful tear jerker that at times feels like a hug in a the form of cinema.
Life Itself is released on the 4th January in the UK, available through Sky Cinema and at various theaters nationwide.
Coming from Amazon Studios, Life Itself stars Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde as a couple whose journey is intertwined with a group of people ranging from New York to Spain and how all of their lives intersect over the course of different generations thanks to one mysterious tragic event.