Life Itself

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Life Itself Movie Poster Image
Too-emotional melodrama has violence, language, drinking.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 118 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Stresses the importance of moving past tragedies and setbacks. Life can be messy and ugly and knock you down, but it's up to people to get up, move on, and live the best life possible.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Narrator says we need to follow a hero, but there aren't really heroes in the story; all main characters are complicated, flawed, many hurting from losses. Will and Abby share a beautiful love, but Will has difficulties managing his feelings and overcoming grief. Abby is intelligent, kind. Javier has a loving, poetic soul but allows self-pity, jealousy to overcome him. Bella is a devoted, supportive wife and mother. Rigo is gentle, big-hearted. Smart women; emotional men.

Violence

(Spoiler alert!) In possibly movie's most upsetting scene, a character unexpectedly dies by suicide using a gun. Blood splatter is shown in at least three different scenes. Someone writes a screenplay in which a character is run over by a bus (victim shown on the ground with blood) because in movie's reality, a character is struck, killed by a bus. A young child witnesses the accident, experiences PTSD. Talk of character's parents being killed in a car crash (one victim decapitated). A character falls ill, dies of cancer. Story of a character being molested as a child/teen; flashback shows her stealing his gun, threatening him, shooting him in the knee. Will acts unhinged at a coffee shop, has to be physically escorted out. A young woman punches another woman after smashing her cell phone.

Sex

Two couples kiss, caress each other in bed (separately). A college-age couple has a pregnancy scare. Love scenes show close-ups of faces kissing and arms embracing on beds. A young woman's sexuality is referenced as one of the reasons others find her frightening and intimidating. A man jokes about being unable to masturbate to thoughts of his wife or therapist.

Language

Lots of cursing, including a dog's comical name, "F--kface." Frequent use of words such as "f--k," "motherf----r," "f---ing," "s--t," "d--k," "c--k," "t-ts," "a--hole," "what a gyp," "damn," "goddamn," "bitch," and Spanish curse words like "joda" and "puta" (subtitled).

Consumerism

Brands/products seen include Apple MacBook, Amazon, Diet Coke, iPhone, Renault, Land Rover.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters smoke cigarettes and weed, and a few different characters drink at parties, dinners, etc. Will puts Jack Daniels in his double espresso along with Xanax. More than one character drinks to excess. A formerly institutionalized character and his therapist discuss his meds.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Life Itself is an emotional family drama from the writer-director of the hit TV drama This Is Us. It takes place in New York and Spain during different timelines and follows multiple generations of two families who are tied together due to a couple of fateful days. This movie is definitely more intense/mature than the show thanks to several upsetting tragedies, including a street accident, a death by suicide, a grave illness, and talk of fatal car crashes and molestation. Blood is shown, and sympathetic characters suffer. There's also quite a bit of drinking (sometimes to excess) and lots of strong language: A dog is named "F--kface," and "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," etc. are used in many scenes. Plus, characters smoke cigarettes and weed. The love scenes are milder by comparison; they tend to focus on couples kissing in bed. Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde co-star in this story about persevering through the messiness and ugliness of life.

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What's the story?

LIFE ITSELF follows New York couple Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde) from their years as college best friends to lovers to a happily married duo about to have a baby. Their story includes unexpected tragedies; then the movie shifts its focus to the Spanish Gonzalez family -- olive farm foreman Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta); his young wife, Bella (Laia Costa); and their son, Rodrigo -- as well as estate owner Saccione (Antonio Banderas). Told in chapters and using voice-over narration, the movie, which was directed by This Is Us  creator/show runner Dan Fogelman, flashes back and fast-forwards often, encompassing several generations of the two main families, one in Spain and one in New York City.

Is it any good?

Even the excellent cast can't save this well-intentioned but maudlin tearjerker from feeling like an emotionally manipulative melodrama. Unlike This Is Us, where the sentimentality works because audiences have multiple episodes in which to emotionally invest in the show's characters and storylines, Life Itself feels mawkish. The tears may come, but they won't be earned, because the story is rushed and patched together in a way that devalues each of the "chapters" and characters. Fogelman is a talented TV storyteller, and there are pieces of the movie's story that by themselves would have made interesting features, but all together the movie isn't nearly as powerful as it clearly aims to be.

Instead, all of the film's capable, award-winning actors (particularly the ones playing the Spaniards, who handle their characters with a subtlety lacking in some of the American roles) are left with an uneven, at times downright disturbing and violent film. (Even if tweens and middle schoolers watch This Is Us at home, this movie isn't for younger viewers.) The dialogue is clunky and so overwrought that it feels dishonest. What pot-smoking, beer-chugging frat boy has the emotional maturity to tell his best friend what Will tells Abby as an undergraduate? Fogelman's brand of speechifying works just fine when Sterling K. Brown or Milo Ventimiglia is waxing poetic or proclaiming their love on TV, but it feels over-the-top here. Given how well-loved Fogelman's series is, fans may be disappointed that the movie doesn't live up to their expectations, but that Pearson magic just isn't here. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Life Itself. How does it compare to what you might see in a thriller or action movie? Does realistic violence impact viewers differently than stylized or superhero violence?

  • Which characters are able to move past the negative aspects of their lives and find light and love in their future? Who exemplifies compassion, empathy, and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?

  • What does the narrator mean by saying that each of our stories contains the stories of our parents, grandparents, and all the people who came before us? Do you believe that?

  • If you're a fan of the show This Is Us, how does the film compare? Can you tell that they're from the same creative mind?

Movie details

For kids who love romantic dramas

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