“A couple of the early reviews that have come out about this movie feel so out of left field to everybody who’s a part of this movie,” Fogelman told TooFab. “There’s a disconnect between something that is happening between our primarily white male critics who don’t like anything that has any emotion.”
Despite Fogelman’s defense, several of the negative reviews have come from women — including IndieWire’s Kate Erbland, who calls it “an unholy combination of ‘Rashomon’ and ‘Babel,’ [which] strings together seemingly disparate plotlines into one massive, messy tableau of (sorry, has to be done) life itself, a life that zings toward the warm embrace of death.”
The critiques are especially crushing considering that Fogelman’s hit ABC series “This is Us” garnered eight Emmy nominations this year.
If the slew of negative reviews weren’t enough of a punch in the face for Fogelman, then surely the film’s appallingly low 13% on Rotten Tomatoes should serve as the final knockout. However, that’s still higher than another television award-winner who premiered a film in Toronto, Matthew Weiner’s 2014 “Are You Here,” which stands at 7% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Here’s what the critics are saying:
“At some point in the career of far too many a rising writer-director, it seems, especially those who lean into the ‘writer’ portion of their portfolio, a demon alights on their shoulder and whispers, ‘You should really make a generations-spanning interlocking-stories narrative that says something deep and elusive about the human condition.’ Pausing to see how the idea is going down (like with chicken pox, some filmmakers will be immune, some will get it only once, and a few, like Paul Haggis and Alejandro G. Iñárritu, will experience subsequent flare-ups), the imp may then add, ‘Just think of the cast you could get!'”
The Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang cleverly used his “A House With a Clock in its Walls” review to get in a dig at “Life Itself.”
“This week in plot-point coincidences, there are two new pictures — ‘The House With a Clock in Its Walls’ and ‘Life Itself’ — in which a child is sent to live with a weird uncle after losing Mom and Dad in a car crash. One of these is a full-on horror movie, as patently unbelievable as it is genuinely terrifying, full of cheap shocks and torturous metaphysics and sporting perhaps the most annoying title of the year. The other one, ‘The House With a Clock in Its Walls,’ is a moderately transporting, visually elaborate young-adult fantasy directed by Eli Roth…”
“By the end, when the connections are revealed (although easily predicted), and people have stopped getting hit by buses (also not kidding), here are many of the things “Life Itself” has ruined: Mandy Patinkin and Jean Smart as grandparents; the seriousness of mental illness; sassy baristas; Samuel L. Jackson (all over again); movie references; flirty post-coital talk; profanity; people-growing-old-in-seconds sequences; chapter titles for movies; olive oil. And to reiterate (a favorite tactic of the movie’s): Dylan; flashbacks; narration; love; death; your two hours.”
“Supposedly, Life Itself is all about how really shitty things can happen but love prevails and all of us around the world are interconnected by some cosmic power, but it’s so manipulative that it just makes you want to pull your eyes out.”
“The less said about ‘Life Itself’ — a truly zany multi-timeline melodrama from the creator of that NBC show that makes everyone cry — the better…the movie itself utterly wastes the pairing so beautifully suggested by this perfect photo [of Isaac and Bening.] But at least Dan Fogelman gets to it quickly.”
“Unreliability is a fascinating and tricky conceit for novelists and filmmakers. It should not be confused with bad writing. There is a lot of that here, and also, to confuse matters further, a lot of good acting. It is poignant and sometimes weirdly thrilling to watch Mr. Isaac, Ms. Wilde and the other cast members — I should also mention Laia Costa and Sergio Peris-Mencheta, though they might prefer that I didn’t — commit with such fervor and seriousness to such utter balderdash. Their efforts and the soft-and-shiny, sun-drenched look of Brett Pawlak’s cinematography might fool the inattentive into mistaking ‘Life Itself’ for a good movie.”
However, Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds was more forgiving, pointing out that fans of “This Is Us” might appreciate the film.
“You may want to keep some tissues on hand while watching Life Itself. The tears will flow and there’s no way to stop them.”