'This is Us' creator stumbles into melodrama 'Life Itself'

"This is Us" creator Dan Fogelman has inadvertently provided a stark lesson on key differences between TV an...

Posted: Sep 20, 2018 3:37 PM
Updated: Sep 20, 2018 3:37 PM

"This is Us" creator Dan Fogelman has inadvertently provided a stark lesson on key differences between TV and movies with "Life Itself," the new film that he wrote and directed. Featuring similar emotional beats, the movie suffers by cramming all that melodrama into a confined space, heightening the sense of manipulation to what feels like absurd levels.

"Life Itself" deals with many of the same themes as Fogelman's hit NBC series, including the interconnectedness of life and the potentially crippling grief associated with losing loved ones. The central point, however, hinges on the sheer unpredictability of it all, while wrapping that in the reassuring message that recovery is possible despite the depths we might reach.

Arts and entertainment

Movies

That Hallmark-card-like sentiment, alas, is delivered in pretty thudding fashion. And while there are lines of dialogue and performances that tug at the heartstrings -- the death of a parent, or a parent's desire to help and protect a child, offer strong hooks -- it's presented with so little subtlety the net effect is more annoying than uplifting.

The structure of "Life Itself" largely thwarts efforts to synopsize the plot. Suffice it to say that the story unfolds from the perspective of multiple characters, beginning with Will (Oscar Isaac), who uses sessions with his therapist (Annette Bening) to recount his mad, obsessive courtship of Abby (Olivia Wilde).

Other key players include Antonio Banderas, Olivia Cooke ("Ready Player One"), and Mandy Patinkin. Fogelman divides the various stories into chapters, using the shifting narration as a central (indeed, overtly debated) device to weave together his elaborate tapestry. That's augmented by plenty of pop-culture references, from Bob Dylan songs to Quentin Tarantino movies.

Yet if this rough template works on "This is Us," it's in part because the series has the time to develop characters by exposing different facets of them, and their key experiences, over time. In the context of the show, Fogelman is essentially peeling back layers of an onion -- eliciting tears in the process.

Here, the filmmaker tries to cover the same ground by having those who populate the movie deliver lengthy speeches -- in Banderas' case, literally explaining his back story and what motivates him, then asking his employee (Sergio Peris-Mencheta of the FX show "Snowfall") to reciprocate.

Perhaps foremost, "Life Itself" feels weighted down by its sense of self-importance. The studio seemingly has high hopes for the film, giving it an early spin on the festival circuit in advance of its U.S. release. While early reviews mostly sneered, based on the buttons that are pushed, one suspects reaction will be polarizing and that the movie will surely have its fans and admirers.

Whether that translates into success even approaching what "This is Us" has achieved in television remains to be seen. But when a top TV producer applies his talent to movies and the result contains this many flaws, the first impulse is to politely suggest -- at least in the short term -- not quitting your day job.

"Life Itself" premieres Sept. 21 in the U.S. It's rated R.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 72254

Reported Deaths: 3023
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15503725
Lake7447274
Elkhart476082
Allen3789161
St. Joseph337381
Hamilton2668105
Vanderburgh188813
Hendricks1833106
Cass17749
Johnson1719118
Porter126639
Clark117846
Tippecanoe117711
Madison91565
LaPorte88330
Howard87265
Kosciusko84012
Marshall77122
Bartholomew76647
Floyd76045
Monroe72230
Delaware70152
Dubois67612
Boone66246
Noble65929
Hancock64138
Vigo58610
Jackson5725
Warrick57030
LaGrange55610
Shelby54227
Grant52130
Dearborn49328
Morgan45934
Clinton4093
Henry37320
Wayne35410
White35410
Montgomery34821
Lawrence33627
Decatur33232
Harrison32123
Putnam2868
Miami2672
Daviess26320
Scott26310
Greene24634
Franklin23813
Jasper2272
DeKalb2264
Jennings22012
Gibson2144
Steuben2063
Ripley1977
Fayette1837
Perry18112
Carroll1772
Starke1767
Posey1670
Orange16624
Wabash1633
Wells1622
Fulton1612
Jefferson1552
Whitley1506
Knox1490
Tipton1336
Spencer1313
Washington1311
Huntington1213
Newton11510
Randolph1154
Clay1095
Sullivan1031
Adams952
Jay860
Owen841
Pulaski761
Rush744
Brown731
Fountain682
Blackford622
Ohio624
Benton600
Pike520
Parke511
Vermillion500
Switzerland450
Crawford440
Martin430
Union370
Warren221
Unassigned0202

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 98675

Reported Deaths: 3652
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18006522
Cuyahoga13269498
Hamilton9493253
Lucas5207321
Montgomery422991
Summit3486220
Marion291945
Butler286163
Mahoning2502255
Pickaway238042
Stark1783139
Warren174238
Lorain171378
Columbiana163460
Trumbull1500106
Fairfield133231
Delaware127319
Licking122449
Clark113314
Lake108738
Wood101358
Clermont90211
Medina89635
Miami81938
Tuscarawas77214
Portage74661
Allen71844
Greene66212
Belmont61426
Richland59611
Mercer59113
Erie56427
Ashtabula55946
Geauga55244
Wayne52558
Ross4504
Huron3935
Darke38527
Ottawa37126
Sandusky36816
Athens3561
Hancock3553
Madison35310
Holmes3276
Lawrence2670
Auglaize2446
Union2371
Scioto2221
Muskingum2211
Jefferson2192
Putnam20217
Washington20022
Knox1997
Seneca1963
Coshocton1906
Shelby1864
Preble1802
Crawford1725
Morrow1682
Hardin16112
Champaign1592
Clinton1586
Highland1481
Fulton1471
Logan1452
Wyandot1428
Ashland1403
Defiance1394
Williams1323
Brown1262
Perry1213
Guernsey1167
Henry1152
Hocking1159
Carroll1105
Fayette1100
Monroe9118
Pike760
Jackson730
Van Wert711
Paulding650
Gallia621
Adams592
Meigs360
Vinton302
Morgan250
Harrison241
Noble160
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 68°
Angola
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 63°
Huntington
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 65°
Decatur
63° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 63°
Van Wert
63° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 63°
Sunny, Seasonable Saturday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events