Life Itself (2018 film)
Life Itself is a 2018 American epic drama film written and directed by Dan Fogelman. It stars Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening, and Antonio Banderas, and follows multiple couples over numerous generations, and their connections to a single event.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Dan Fogelman|
|Written by||Dan Fogelman|
|Music by||Federico Jusid|
|Edited by||Julie Monroe|
|Distributed by||Amazon Studios (United States)|
Sony Pictures Releasing
Stage 6 Films (International)
|Box office||$7.8 million|
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2018, and was theatrically released in the United States on September 21, 2018, by Amazon Studios. Life Itself received largely negative reviews from critics, who called it "simultaneously overwrought and underwhelming."
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- Chapter One - The Hero (narrated by Samuel L. Jackson)
Narrator Samuel L. Jackson first introduces the hero of our story, a handsome gay man, Henry (Jake Robinson), as he is talking to his therapist, Dr. Cait Morris (Annette Bening). Sam is unimpressed with Henry's story, and moves the focus to Cait. Cait is walking down the street when Will Dempsey (Oscar Isaac) tells her he is a big fan before she is hit by a bus. Sam breaks the narration and appears physically to suggest that since Cait is the hero that she will be fine... except for the blood pouring out of her head.
This all turns out to be part of script that Will is writing, and another narrator (Lorenza Izzo) continues the story. Will goes to therapy to see Cait, where he has been going since his wife Abby (Olivia Wilde) left him. Flashbacks show Will and Abby's married life. Abby was a big Bob Dylan fan, and is shown to be very pregnant before their marriage ended.
Will tells Cait about Abby's history, Abby's mother and father met at work as elementary school teachers, and they die in a car accident. Abby goes to live with her Uncle Joe (Bryant Carroll), who was physically and sexually abusive toward her until she got a gun from a friend and threatened to kill him if he ever touched her again. Abby found herself in college where she met Will, and he made the bold move to ask her out. Less than a year after they begin dating, Will asks Abby to marry him. Abby has some conditions, specifically about wanting a dog before kids, but she agrees to marry him. They later meet Will's parents Irwin (Mandy Patinkin) and Linda (Jean Smart).
On another occasion, Abby goes to Will to talk about her school thesis paper, and she wants to make it on the unreliable narrator, and how life is the ultimate unreliable narrator because of how tricky and surprising it can be.
In the present day, Will wonders what went wrong with Abby. Cait tells Will that he was institutionalized following Abby leaving him, and asks him to tell her what happened "that day". Will and Abby had just had lunch at his parents' house. They were walking down the street when Abby told Will that they were having a girl, and that she wants to name her after Bob Dylan. Abby gets distracted by Will and is struck by a bus. Inside the bus, a little boy named Rodrigo Gonzalez (Adrian Marrero) watches. Abby died, but the baby survived. Will blames himself for what happened and kills himself in front of Cait.
- Chapter Two - Dylan Dempsey
The narrator mentions Will and Abby's daughter Dylan was born of death and tragedy, and these just seemed to follow her growing up. After being taken in by Irwin and Linda, Linda dies when Dylan is age 6, and then her dog dies when she is 7. On her 21st birthday, Dylan (Olivia Cooke) is getting ready to go out. Her relationship with Irwin is a little more hostile, but she is shown to still care about him. She goes to a venue where her band gets ready to play.
After the show, Dylan is making out with one of her band mates. Another girl records them, and Dylan gets up to take her phone and stomp it on the ground. The two have a small fight before Dylan leaves the venue. Dylan sits down on a bench to smoke a joint. She dreams that she watches her mother's final moment. Dylan wakes up crying with the bus in front of her. It appears that she sees Rodrigo on the bus asking her if she is okay.
- Chapter Three - The Gonzalez Family
In Spain, a man named Vincent Saccione (Antonio Banderas) owns a piece of land with several men at his employment. He brings in one man, Javier Gonzalez (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), for a drink. Saccione tells Javier a story of how his father was an Italian man who did not allow any Spanish being spoken in his home. He later impregnated Saccione's mother and essentially shunned the two of them. After he died, Saccione took advantage of the fact that his father left no will, and so he took his father's money and now owns the land. Saccione offers Javier a place to stay so that he may oversee some of the land. Javier agrees.
Javier goes to see his beloved girlfriend Isabel Diaz (Laia Costa), who works as a waitress. The two build a life with each other, eventually marrying and becoming parents to Rodrigo. Saccione starts to make secret visits to the Gonzalez home whenever Javier is not there. He presents Rodrigo with a globe, and the boy takes an interest in seeing New York. Saccione tells Isabel he feels it is late in his life to find the happiness that Javier has, and he feels bad for intruding on their life, but Isabel assures Saccione that Rodrigo likes him. However, Javier disapproves of Saccione's visits and gives him the globe back.
Javier then decides to take Isabel and Rodrigo to America to see New York City. Rodrigo has the time of his life, until they find themselves on the bus. Rodrigo talks to the bus driver, momentarily distracting him, causing him to hit Abby. Rodrigo watches the whole scene and becomes traumatized.
Back home, Javier and Isabel struggle to take care of Rodrigo since he can not sleep. They invite Saccione to come back and help Rodrigo, and it works. Javier becomes envious of this, feeling that Isabel and Rodrigo love Saccione more than him. He confronts Saccione and asks if he loves them both, and he says yes, but he feels guilty about it. Javier makes the decision to leave, even though Isabel insists she loves the life she has with Javier. Isabel stays with Saccione, but she makes it clear she will not love him the way she loves Javier.
- Chapter Four - Rodrigo Gonzalez
Rodrigo (Alex Monner) grows up to go to school in New York. He starts a relationship with a girl named Shari, a rather vain and spoiled trust fund baby from a wealthy Long Island family who Rodrigo describes as "loud". At one point, Rodrigo travels back home when Isabel gets sick with cancer. Rodrigo wants to come back and stay with his mother, but she tells him "Enough is enough", and with that, they say goodbye.
The narrator takes us to what is the most important day in Rodrigo's life. Shari tells Rodrigo that she is pregnant. Rodrigo becomes worried, even as she continues going on about it casually to the point where she almost gets hit by a cab until Rodrigo pulls her out of the way, but she does not notice and keeps talking. Shari then says it was just an April Fool's prank, but Rodrigo, fed up with her shallow and immature behavior, breaks up with her right then and there.
Back in Spain, Isabel knows her time is running out. Javier then arrives for the first time in years. The narrator reveals that Javier asked Saccione to write letters to him to update him on Isabel and Rodrigo. Javier spends one final moment with his wife. Rodrigo goes back to his dorm room and gets a call from Saccione that Isabel has passed away. Distraught, Rodrigo goes for a run throughout the city. That is when he comes across Dylan crying on the bench and asks her if she is okay.
- Chapter Five - Elena Dempsey-Gonzalez
It is then revealed that the narrator is Elena (Lorenza Izzo), Dylan and Rodrigo's daughter. She is reading from a book she wrote, called "Life Itself" which is the story of everything that led to her life up to this point. Elena tells the listeners the last thing that Isabel told Rodrigo, and we see her saying it in English. She tells her son that although life may bring us to our knees, if we look hard enough, we will find love.
Elena concludes her story by saying how one moment shaped her whole life, and that every bit of her has some of her mother, her father, and her grandparents.
The last scene is a brief clip of Will admiring a pregnant Abby.
- Oscar Isaac as Will Dempsey, Abby’s husband, Dylan’s father and Irwin and Linda’s son
- Olivia Wilde as Abby Dempsey, Will's wife and Dylan’s mother
- Caitlin Carmichael as 11–13-year-old Abby
- Jordana Rose as 5–7-year-old Abby
- Mandy Patinkin as Irwin Dempsey, Will's father, Dylan’s grandfather and Linda’s husband
- Jean Smart as Linda Dempsey, Will's mother, Dylan’s grandmother and Irwin’s wife
- Olivia Cooke as Dylan Dempsey, Will and Abby's daughter, Irwin and Linda’s granddaughter, Elena’s mother and Rodrigo’s wife
- Kya Kruse as Young Dylan
- Alisa Sushkova as Baby Dylan
- Sergio Peris-Mencheta as Javier González, Rodrigo’s father and Isabel’s husband
- Laia Costa as Isabel González-Díaz, Rodrigo’s mother, Dylan and Javier’s wife
- Àlex Monner as Rodrigo González, Javier and Isabel's son, Shari’s boyfriend and Dylan’s husband
- Yeray Alba Leon as 14-year-old Rodrigo
- Pablo Lagüens Abad as 13-year-old Rodrigo
- Javier Verdugo Luque as 10-year-old Rodrigo
- Adrian Marrero as 7–10-year-old Rodrigo
- Isabel Durant as Shari Dickstein, Rodrigo's Immature girlfriend
- Lorenza Izzo as Elena Dempsey-González, Rodrigo and Dylan's daughter
- Annette Bening as Dr. Cait Morris
- Antonio Banderas as Vincent Saccione
- Samuel L. Jackson as Himself
- Jake Robinson as Henry
In August 2016, FilmNation Entertainment acquired the film's script, by Dan Fogelman, who also directed the film; FilmNation had bought the script after it appeared on The Black List. Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey served as producers on the film under their Temple Hill Entertainment banner. In November 2016, Oscar Isaac joined the cast. In January 2017, Olivia Cooke, Antonio Banderas, Samuel L. Jackson, Olivia Wilde and Laia Costa were also added, and in March 2017, Annette Bening joined as well, alongside Mandy Patinkin and Alex Monner.
In December 2017, a fierce bidding war for distribution rights for the film, fought between Amazon Studios, Universal Pictures, and Paramount Pictures, concluded with Amazon Studios winning the rights with a $10 million dollar plus bid.
The film premiered on September 8, 2018 at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was theatrically released on September 21, 2018 in the United States. It was released on January 4, 2019 in the United Kingdom.
In the United States and Canada and China, Life Itself was released alongside The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Assassination Nation and Fahrenheit 11/9, and was projected to gross $4–6 million from 2,578 theaters during its opening weekend. It brought in $2.1 million over its first weekend, finishing 11th, behind a number of films that ranged from their second to seventh week in theaters. This was the second worst opening, since 1982, by a film that opened at over 2,500 theaters.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 14%, based on 144 reviews, with an average rating of 3.58/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A mawkish melodrama that means less the more it tries to say, Life Itself suggests writer-director Dan Fogelman's talents are best suited to television." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 21 out of 100, based on reviews from 39 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it 2.5 out of 5 stars and a 47% "definite recommend".
Kate Erbland of IndieWire gave the film a "D", saying: "Life Itself thinks you're stupid. Or, if not stupid, unable to understand how a movie should work. It's a movie made for people who can't be trusted to understand any storytelling unless it's not just spoon-fed but ladled on, piled high, and explained via montage and voiceover." A. O. Scott, chief film critic for The New York Times, calls it an "inadvertently hilarious" film, filled with "parental slaughter ... (where) mothers and fathers are hit by buses, perish in car accidents, commit suicide and succumb to cancer," though he praises Isaac, Wilde, Costa, and Peris-Mencheta (playing the "starting" couples in the two countries) for their acting.
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