This Is Us screenwriter and director Dan Fogelman’s latest film Life Itself is a weepy series of five narrated chapters that connect and interlock four generations through one catastrophic event. Whether you like it or loathe it, the movie centres around arguably the saddest family tree in history, hinging upon the domino effect of death, which it delivers in one horrifying hit.
The story unfolds around college sweethearts Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde), who fall in love, get married and have a kid. The affection of the former for the latter has “the intensity of a stalker”, but Will’s character is likeable nonetheless and his girlfriend – though less needy – loves him in equal parts. Aside from their relationship, Abby’s extraneous love of Bob Dylan songs and her random college thesis on “the unreliable narrator” are compounding strands that are referenced continually throughout the feature.
The film begins back to front with a dishevelled Will in the office of his psychiatrist (Annette Benning) having recently been released from a six-month stint in a mental institute. Fogelman uses a string of narrated flashbacks to piece together their life up until this point, and through unpredictable twists and turns the director ends the first chapter with a shocking departure.
Piling on the misery, the plot whisks us through the years, forward to meet the couple’s daughter Dylan, sideways to meet Will’s parents and across the seas to Spain to meet the Gonzalez family, whose son Rodrigo bears witness to the tragedy that started it all off. Child molestation, parent decapitation and an unpredictable suicide all add to the heartbreak, so the sun-drenched cinematography which Brett Pawlak pulls together in Spain, as well as a languid Spanish monologue from landowner Mr Saccione (Antonia Banderas), are a welcome relief when the story leads us there.
Multiple “unreliable” narrations are sometimes confusing and misleading, and moments of happiness are pulled from under us as quickly as they arrive. The melancholy score from Federico Jusid adds weight to the sorrow and a solid all-star cast act their way out of potential cheesiness, but you can’t help feeling that Fogelman’s sole intention in creating Life Itself was to ruin your day.
Life Itself is released nationwide on 4th January 2019.
Watch the trailer for Life Itself here: