BFI #LFF 2018: LIFE ITSELF Film Review


Dan Fogelman takes some bold storytelling risks with LIFE ITSELF, a multi-layered drama about the heartrending complexities of life

Fans of hit US TV series THIS IS US will already know creator Dan Fogelman has a knack for producing emotional, multi-character drama. With LIFE ITSELF, Fogelman delivers his most expansive exploration yet with this multi-layered story about the heartrending complexities of life.

Told over five chapters, LIFE ITSELF follows Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde), a New York couple driven apart by tragedy. Charting their love affair from their college days through to married life and the birth of their first child, we experience their transcendental highs and crushing lows. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in the lush Spanish countryside, couple Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Isabelle (Laia Costa) endeavour to make their relationship work in the face of mounting external influences. Through one single incident, the lives of these seemingly disparate people prove inextricably linked, impacting each of them in unforeseen ways.


At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking LIFE ITSELF is a traditional melodramatic weepie but – just like life itself – things aren’t so straightforward. Viewers will no doubt be surprised at how dark this film gets reasonably quickly. Fogelman isn’t afraid to embrace all aspects of life here, including love, happiness, sadness, death and fate, as the first half hour of the film plainly demonstrates. This is more than a sweeping love story but a narratively complex, multi-layered affair, unfolding in a host of inventive and unexpected ways.

Oscar Isaac delivers a multi-layered performance as Will as does Olivia Wilde as Abby. Together, the two of them bring to life the beautiful yet honest love story that ends very unexpectedly. Another stellar performance comes from Laia Costa as Isabel, the scenes with her son eliciting arguably the biggest emotional response from the audience.


Yet LIFE ITSELF is not a film for everybody. This is a weighty piece, piling on tragedy upon tragedy and at times, its drama feels relentlessly cruel. While, for the most part, Fogelman does a great job of structuring his inter-connected world, he does tend lose a bit of his grip partway through and tonally, the piece feels a little all over the place.

The narration of the piece is also over-utilized, watering down the impact of the characters and their choices. The film opens with a bit of trickery, a series of false starts revealing its narrator – Samuel L. Jackson – as unreliable, one of the film’s repeating themes. After a while, however, this inconsistent narration begins to frustrate and irritate.

That said, this isn’t a film you’re going to forget in a hurry, mainly because it will break your heart and leave you to pick up the pieces. LIFE ITSELF takes some bold risks with its storytelling and while it may not appeal to everyone, it is daring and full of heart.

3 out of 5 stars

LIFE ITSELF screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 15 October 2018