Don’t let the trailer fool you. Life Itself is not This Is Us. Yes, it is a multi-generational family drama written and directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, and yes, you will need tissues. But even Fogelman will tell/warn you that Life Itself is darker and heavier than his serial television weep-fest. It’s a melodramatic soap opera of a film that tells the story of two families – in New York and Spain – whose lives are connected by tragedy. It’s heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting even as it seeks to manipulate our emotions with a heavy-handed theme that ‘Life’ is an unreliable narrator of our story. The film is broken up into “chapters” to drive the point home.

Life Itself features a strong ensemble cast led by Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Operation Finale) and Olivia Wilde (The Lazarus Effect, TV’s House). Their characters’ courtship lays the foundation for a narrative that takes several unexpected turns and leads to the introduction of the rest of the cast, including Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Laia Costa, Alex Monner, Antonio Banderas, and Annette Bening.  It’s near-impossible to reveal more about the story or the characters without spoiling the ride for those in the mood for a heavy romantic drama that spans a couple of decades. So plot-wise, I’ll leave it there.

Life Itself is not a must-see, and the movie will surely fade into the background as awards contenders start to dominate the box office. So Fogelman fans should either see it right away, or save it for a rental when This Is Us goes on its next hiatus. If you’ve never seen, or don’t particularly like This Is Us (are you heartless?!), then you should probably skip it altogether.

Fogelman wrote Life Itself before This Is Us, so it’s interesting to note that the former inspired the latter, not the other way around. Both share a certain vibe in format, style and tone, but This Is Us provides way more opportunity to smile and laugh through the tears. That’s why I prefer the show. Season three premieres Tuesday, September 25 on NBC. 🙂


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