TIFF 2018 Review: Life Itself is Nothing Like You Expect
When I first saw the trailer for Life Itself, I knew that the film would be right up my alley. Over the past couple of years, I have become a big fan of Dan Fogelman’s work in film and on television. I adored Galavant, loved Crazy, Stupid Love, and This is Us is easily one of my favorite television shows of all-time. After seeing several trailers and tv spots for Life Itself, I got this vibe that the film was going to be a movie version of This is Us, but clearly, I was wrong. Life Itself is nothing like you expect.
Life Itself is a touching yet complex look at life. It focuses on a group of people whose lives are interconnected through multiple generations. Will (Oscar Issac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde) meet in college and immediately fall in love. The seemingly happy couple end up getting married and settling down. However, their lives will be forever changed when an unexpected incident occurs that involves Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), Isabelle (Laia Costa) and their son, Rodrigo (Alex Monner).
I realize that my plot description is very vague, but I do think that if you are interested in seeing the film, you should try to see it knowing as little about it as possible. As I mentioned above, the trailer for Life Itself gives off a This is Us vibe and while the film does focus on relationships and family like the hit NBC show, Fogelman’s film is much heavier and doesn’t hold back.
For nearly 2hrs, I felt like I was constantly being punched in the gut over and over again. Fogelman has written and directed a film about life that isn’t afraid to embrace all aspects of life including love, happiness, sadness, death, and fate. While watching this film, I got the impression that Fogelman was trying to reflect on his own life while also showcasing how lives can sometimes clash unexpectedly and be forever changed as a result. What shocked me the most about Life Itself is that it is so raw and truly earns it’s R-rated. I wasn’t mentally prepared for such a gut-punching emotional rollercoaster.
This is the type of film that you need to embrace for what it is. It is a very jarring film as it is broken up into multiple chapters that at first seem very different from one another. As each chapter unfolds, there are some light-hearted moments, but ultimately, most of the stories don’t have happy endings. The section that took me by total surprise was the first chapter which focuses on Oscar Issac and Olivia Wilde’s characters. The setup of this chapter leads you to believe that everything is going to be all sunshine and rainbows, but in reality, their story is so incredibly devastating.
Its hard to talk about details without spoiling a lot of the film but I do need to point out that Oscar Isaac’s performance here is nothing short of phenomenal. This is hands down one of the best roles of his career thus far. His portrayal of Will is multilayered, and you see within this 30-minute chapter how much range and talent Issac has as an actor. Olivia Wilde is also fantastic. She has excellent chemistry with Issac, and the two of them together bring to life such a beautiful yet honest love story that ends very unexpectedly.
The rest of the chapters in the film connect back to Will and Abby’s story. These stories vary in length but have a particular tone. The storyline involving Mr. Saccoine (Antonio Banderas) and Javier is powerful but could be somewhat shocking to viewers when they learn that the entire chapter is subtitled. There is no indication to the language shift prior so be warned that almost the whole second half of the film is in Spanish. Aside from the unexpected language shift, the storyline that involves Mr. Saccoine and Javier and his future wife Isabella makes such a bold statement about social class and personal ethics.
Life Itself is not a movie for everybody. It is the type of film that I knew 30 minutes in that critics would hate, but the majority of audiences are going to love. Even though I didn’t attend the world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (I saw it at a press screening prior here in LA), I was in Toronto during the festival and heard all about the standing ovation and how the audience, for the most part, truly adored it. I have no problem admitting that I enjoyed the hell out of this film and that it was a lot different than I expected it to be. I like being surprised when I go to the movies and Life Itself was a total surprise that was very poignant and life-affirming. Life Itself will break your heart and leave you picking up the pieces.