"Uplifting Moments Mixed with Some Edgy Content"
What You Need To Know:
LIFE ITSELF has an undeniable love for marriage and family, and a pro-life message. It’s filled with detailed characters, emotional nuances and great performances, combined with some startling plot twists. Sadly, the movie contains lots of strong foul language and a few other lewd moments, sudden intense violence, and some substance abuse. This content warrants extreme caution and not only limits the potential audience for LIFE ITSELF but also dilutes the strength of its artistic vision.
LIFE ITSELF is the story of several different people whose lives are seemingly unrelated but ultimately tie together in profound ways, including a young married couple with a baby and a married couple in Spain. Alternately uplifting and shocking with some unnerving plot twists, LIFE ITSELF has a strong moral worldview overall, with a pro-life message, mitigated by some Romantic, pagan, immoral elements including lots of strong foul language and a few other lewd moments, sudden violence, brief marijuana use, and a character with an alcohol problem.
LIFE ITSELF is written and directed by Dan Fogelman, the writer of the witty romantic comedy CRAZY STUPID LOVE and creator of the NBC hit series THIS IS US. LIFE ITSELF continues Fogelman’s talent for creating incredibly affecting tearjerkers, with relatable characters that will make viewers profoundly reconsider their own lives. Told in five different book-like chapters that each follow a different character while leaping among time frames and countries and inventive narration techniques to boot, Fogelman keeps viewers on their toes throughout as he finds fascinating ways to bring his disparate tales together.
The movie opens with Samuel L. Jackson narrating as himself, regrettably dropping a lot of “f” bombs, while telling the story of a guy named Will (Oscar Isaac in another superb performance) and his therapist, Cait (played by Annette Bening). Cait is trying to help Will process a tragedy that’s left him emotionally shaken, turning him into a hopeless alcoholic. Just when the viewer is drawn into their intense interpersonal dynamic, the session ends, the therapist heads home through busy New York streets, and then she’s killed by a bus, the first of several utterly jarring moments in the movie.
The camera cuts to Jackson in the crowd of onlookers. He throws his hands up in the air as if saying he can’t handle the shock. He then literally walks off the screen and out of the movie. A female voice takes over for the rest of LIFE ITSELF, but Fogelman has managed to knock viewers on their heels, making them realize that anything can happen in this tale.
Thus, the concept of the unreliable narrator is applied, where viewers have to consider that the story is told from an individual perspective rather than objective reality. In a flashback to Will and Abby’s early days of romance in college, Abby posits that life itself is an unreliable narrator in anyone’s story. She adds that the constant possibility of surprise that everyday life can provide at any moment can alter our entire life trajectory.
Will and Abby are the center of the movie’s first chapter, which unfolds between Will’s destructive behavior in the present and the dawn of love and hope that brought them together and formed their marriage and Abby’s pregnancy. However, when two tragedies strike, the story jumps to follow the life of their daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke), who winds up raised by her doting grandfather Irwin (Mandy Patinkin), and turns into an embittered 21-year-old woman shrieking punk versions of classic love songs in dingy clubs.
The story then leaps to Spain to follow the story of an olive picker named Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), who is madly in love with his wife Isabel (Laia Costa) and awaiting the birth of their son Rigo (Alex Monner). When his boss, Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas), puts Javier in charge of the pickers and enables him and his family to move into a beautiful house on the farm for free, life seems perfect, until unexpected circumstances make Javier feel he has to step out of their lives in order to keep them safe and secure.
It’s hard to reveal much more about the plot of LIFE ITSELF without ruining its tremendous impact. Every one of the stories draws viewers intensely into the characters’ lives and then delivers a stunning blow before interweaving the tales together in a way that is not only brilliant but profoundly uplifting.
The movie has an undeniable love for marriage and family, and the beauty of pregnancy, throughout its stories. There’s also an interesting sequence where a young woman tells her boyfriend she’s pregnant and far too blithely says that abortion is an easy option for them to follow. When the boyfriend looks shocked at her callow consideration of abortion, the Jewish woman asks if he’s offended by the idea as a Christian. Still in shock, he doesn’t answer. However, when she admits her story has all been an April Fool’s joke, it’s clear that both the movie and the boyfriend regard her with horror, and the boyfriend instantly breaks up with her. Eventually, it’s revealed that the young man married another woman, and they had many children and grandchildren together. So, in the end, the movie seems to be a very clear takedown of the low regard pro-abortion women have for the lives of unborn children.
LIFE ITSELF is a gentle film between the shocking moments. It’s filled with detailed characters, emotional nuances and great performances. These are all qualities in short supply in today’s movie marketplace, where the more human stories are often also subjected to Oscar-seeking bombast with self-important themes rather than simply giving moviegoers people to care about and relate with for a couple hours.
Also, though the young man mentioned above doesn’t directly respond when asked if he’s a Christian, his mother is shown on her deathbed at several moments in his story, with a large crucifix directly above her. The movie also has numerous beautiful moments of self-sacrifice in the name of helping others.
Lest this description makes LIFE ITSELF sound like a super clean Hallmark TV movie, be aware that the opening story of Will has a ton of strong foul language in it. There’s also some strong foul language in other parts of the movie. Finally, some of the plot twists are shocking enough to be gasp-inducing. One of those twists involves a bloody suicide using a gun.
Inducing strong emotional responses often can be a good thing. LIFE ITSELF makes viewers feel the full range of human emotions, all in the space of two hours. As such, it should leave viewers contemplating who and what people and circumstances affect them personally in their own lives. Sadly, though, the movie’s foul language and sudden violence is definitely too strong. They warrant extreme caution and not only limit the potential audience for LIFE ITSELF but also dilute its artistic excellence overall.