TV & Movies

Sorry Fam, Life Itself Is No This Is Us

If you're looking for a heartfelt family drama, skip this flick and wait for season 3 of 'This Is Us,' which premieres September 25

A scene from Life Itself with Oscar Isaacs holding Olivia Wilde in an embrace on the sidewalk

(Photo: TIFF)

OK, listen, I will admit that I am a This Is Us fan. For the past two seasons, I basically only kept my cable package so I could have my weekly weep with the Pearson family. Whether it was Kevin struggling with the realities of addiction, Kate carrying the burden of guilt for her father’s death or Randall’s breakdown, creator Dan Fogelman seemed to find a unique way to emotionally gut punch audiences each week. And despite the often-cheesy lines, and the swells of heartfelt music, I fall for it every time. (TBH, I’m still baffled that Kleenex hasn’t sponsored the show yet.)

So, when Fogelman announced that he was bringing a similar intergenerational story to the big screen, you best believe I was on board. The film boasts a star-studded cast including Oscar Isaacs, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas (with a serious salt and pepper beard!) and in three parts, explores how one couple’s experience of life, love and loss ends up reverberating across multiple families and generations. Sound familiar?

According to a guest column by Fogelman for Deadline, Life Itself was born out of his decision to “choose to see the romance, and the beauty that is often born from tragedy”—a mandate that applies to both the film and his hit television show. So it’s no surprise that the two share many similarities. Life Itself has all the This Is Us staples: multiple interconnected storylines that jump back and forth in time, complex family structures and dramatic heartfelt speeches. When I saw the film at TIFF, I didn’t add butter to my popcorn, anticipating the tears that would salt it throughout the screening.

But unfortunately, Life Itself is no This Is Us. It’s basically the difference between a homemade cupcake and a Jos Louis. This Is Us is made with just the right ingredients and a lot of love, inspired by the death of Fogelman’s mother and how that loss changed his life. Yes, it’s sweet, but it’s also satisfying. Life Itself, on the other hand, seems like a mass-produced concoction. It has the same key ingredients—big declarations of love, as seen in the trailer between Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac, the idea of multiple people being connected in ways that have yet to be revealed—but the end result feels overly saccharin and, frankly, fake.

And I’m not the only one who left the theatre with a bit of a toothache. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film, which is out in theatres September 21, has a solid 13% rating, with critics describing it as a “blithering botch job” and “less journey than lecture.”

Fogelman shot back in his Deadline column.

“I made this film so people could walk out of a movie theater feeling better than they did when they walked in. And if that’s sentimental, so be it,” he wrote.

But the problem isn’t that the film is sentimental, it’s that with cliché after cliché and cheesy tropes—like breaking the story into titled chapters and adding an unnecessary narrator—it lacks any story sense at all. So fellow fans, if you’re looking for a good weep, save your tears for the September 25 season premiere of This Is Us, because Life Itself just won’t deliver the feels you want.


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