“Life Itself” – Review By Zachary Marsh

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It will always be known that Roger Ebert was a symbol not only to movie critics everywhere, but to filmmakers in general.  He was always fair with his reviews, and he always stuck to his opinion, regardless of what anyone said.  I should know, I had a conversation with the man himself through Facebook commenting.  Not my best moment, if I say so myself, for I now see that I came off as a little kid who just didn’t know how to act like an adult yet.  Roger Ebert’s passing last year was a true shock to me, and I still miss his reviews.  Director Steve James, director of the film “Hoop Dreams,” teamed up with Roger himself alongside his loyal wife Chaz to create a documentary based from his memoir “Life Itself.”  The film “Life Itself” manages to go into Roger’s early life, his time on “Siskel & Ebert,” and even during his final days.  Seeing this great man in the state he was at the time of his death is at first pretty hard to comprehend, and yet it’s easy to get used to this as the film progresses.

Even when Roger was at his worst state, he knew when to make a sarcastic remark that took some tension off of the real problem at hand.  However when he couldn’t do what he wanted to do to help Steve make his vision for the documentary happen, the results were devastating.  These sequences are all spliced in with things like voice impressionist Stephen Stanton reading in Roger’s voice so “Roger” could narrate the film, so to speak, interviews from people like Werner Herzog to Chaz Ebert to Martin Scorsese, and other things of that sort.  All of this is wrapped together in a nice bow and placed together for a running time just less than two hours.  And even with a run time like that, considering that’s pretty long for the average documentary, the time flies by and the narrative of Roger’s life is so captivating and interesting that it’s hard not to be fascinated with it.

I think what impressed me the most is that Steve James didn’t go for a glossy, happy documentary that always showed Ebert in the best light.  There are moments here, as well as things certain interviewees say, that show Ebert in an unhappy, snarky, and even self-centered light.  It’s not the way we’d always like to see our heroes, but James fearlessly doesn’t hold back, and I think that works to the film’s benefit by making particular moments all the more emotional.  We not only get to see Ebert’s life flash before us on the big screen, but we also get to live some of his final days with him, regardless of how hard or how sweet they were.  I think that’s what made the film work for me personally, the fact that we got to peak into the life of a man who has inspired so many but on the inside was sick and just wanted to work.

“Life Itself” is not an easy watch, especially during the scenes where we see Roger at his weakest.  But as a film critic myself, I am so glad I had the pleasure of spending 2 hours in Roger Ebert’s life.  I liked seeing him as a person rather than just this god-like writer behind a computer.  The way he would get excited to see a movie is the way I wish I was more frequently.  I love movies, and I always will love movies.  However, I don’t think I could ever love movies as much as Roger Ebert did, and this film solidified that for me.  The film is unapologetically funny and really sweet at times, the interviews from all of Roger’s friends were great to listen to, and even Stephen Stanton manages to carry the film thanks to his dead-on impersonation of Ebert narrating a good amount of the movie.  If you’re a film lover of any kind, then this is the must see movie to see this summer.  “Life Itself” brings the feels, and is hard to watch at times, but overall it’s a beautiful movie showing the tragic but all-around incredible life of the most well known film critic who has ever lived.  Long live Roger Ebert, and many thanks go to Steve James for managing to bring this wonderful documentary to audiences everywhere.

OVERALL GRADE: 10/10

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