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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.