Life Itself (2018 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Dan Fogelman|
|Screenplay by||Dan Fogelman|
|Music by||Federico Jusid|
|Edited by||Julie Monroe|
|Distributed by||Amazon Studios|
|Box office||$4.1 million|
Life Itself is a 2018 American 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 how they are all connected by a single event.
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2018, and was released in the United States on September 21, 2018, by Amazon Studios. It received negative reviews from critics, who called it "simultaneously overwrought and underwhelming".
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Chapter One - The Hero (narrated by Samuel L. Jackson)
The film starts with Samuel L. Jackson attempting to introduce us to the hero of our story. He first shows us 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, so he moves the focus to Cait. Afterwards, Cait is walking down the street when Will Dempsey (Oscar Isaac) tells her he's a big fan. Cait smiles in gratitude...and then she's hit by a bus. Sam then breaks the narration and appears physically to suggest that since Cait is the hero that she'll be fine... except for the blood pouring out of her head.
This all turns out to be part of an "unreliable Samuel L. Jackson narrator" script that Will is working on in real life, and another narrator continues the story from there. Will then goes to get coffee and starts singing obnoxiously in front of everyone after adding alcohol and xanax to his coffee. He goes to therapy to see Cait, as he has been doing so since his wife Abby (Olivia Wilde) has left him.
Flashbacks show Will and Abby's married life. She was a big Bob Dylan fan, and they had a dog named Fuckface. Abby was shown to be very pregnant before their marriage ended.
Will tells Cait about Abby's history when she asks him to talk about Abby. Abby's mother and father met in college while she was eating a PB&J sandwich. Abby lived with them for seven years until they perished in a horrible car accident that left her father decapitated. She would go on to live with her Uncle Joe (Bryant Carroll), who was physically and sexually abusive to Abby until she got a gun from a friend and threatened to kill him if he ever touched her again, and she shot him in the knee to prove that she's not kidding. Abby found herself in college when she met Will, and he made the bold move to ask her out. Less than a year after they start dating, the two go to a Halloween party dressed as Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace (and they even recreate the adrenaline needle scene), and 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 to Cait just how it went wrong with Abby. Cait mentions that Will was institutionalized following Abby leaving him. Cait asks Will to tell her about what happened on "that day". Will and Abby had just had lunch at his parents' house. They were walking down the street as Abby told Will that they were having a girl. Abby gets distracted as Will tells her he's a big fan, and Abby is struck by a bus. Inside, a little boy named Rodrigo Gonzalez (Adrian Marrero) watches as Will frantically tries to revive Abby. She died, but the baby survived. Will still blames himself for what happened. On impulse, Will kills himself in front of Cait.
Chapter Two - Dylan Dempsey
The narrator mentions how 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, Dylan loses Linda at age 6, and then Fuckface dies when she is 7. After Linda's funeral, Dylan asked Irwin if he would die. The two of them imagine the right things to say one another, with Dylan wanting to express her desire for a great life, and Irwin wanting to be honest with her, but they just keep it simple.
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 she and her band, PB&J, are getting ready to play. Dylan tries to play a song and describe her feelings toward it regarding her mother, but a boorish audience member keeps telling her to take her shirt off until she throws a beer bottle at him. The band plays the song to an excited crowd.
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 girl confronts Dylan to demand that she get her another phone, and Dylan responds by punching the girl in the face and fighting her until she gets pulled off. Dylan leaves the venue.
Dylan sits down on a bench to smoke a joint. She passes out momentarily and 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 again asking her if she's 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 Gonazlez (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 wants to be friends with Javier, but Javier prefers to keep the relationship professional, stating that he wouldn't have taken his father's money. 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.
All the way back in America, Abby turns in her thesis paper and it is said to be a disaster. Her professor also tried to have his way with her, which, according to the narrator, somehow proves Abby's paper on the unreliable narrator.
Saccione starts to make secret visits to the Gonzalez home whenever Javier isn't there. He presents Rodrigo with a globe, and the boy takes an interest in seeing New York. Saccione tells Isabel how he feels it is late in his life to find the kind of 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 the globe back to him.
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, who is momentarily distracted when he hits Abby. Rodrigo watches the whole scene and becomes traumatized.
Back home, Javier and Isabel struggle to take care of Rodrigo since he can't sleep and still feels the effects of what he's seen. They invite Saccione to come back and help the boy, and it works. Saccione teaches him English and helps him get better. Javier sees this and becomes envious, feeling that Isabel and Rodrigo love Saccione more than they love 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 that she loves the life that she has with Javier. Isabel stays with Saccione, but she makes it clear she won't love him the way she loves Javier.
Chapter Four - Rodrigo Gonzalez
Rodrigo (Alex Monner) grows up to go to school in New York. He runs track and starts a relationship with a girl named Shari Dickstein (Isabel Durant), who is, in Rodrigo's words, "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. He wakes up with Shari, who says 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 doesn't notice and keeps talking. Shari then says it was just an April Fool's prank, but Rodrigo breaks up with her right then and there.
Back in Spain, Isabel knows her time is running out. Saccione wants to call Rodrigo, but she doesn't want to say goodbye to him twice. 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's when he runs by Dylan crying on the bench. He 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 telling a group of people in a book store the story that led to her life right now. 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 grandmothers.
The last is a brief clip of Will admiring a pregnant Abby.
- Oscar Isaac as Will Dempsey
- Olivia Wilde as Abby Dempsey, Will's wife
- Caitlin Carmichael as 11–13-year-old Abby
- Jordana Rose as 5–7-year-old Abby
- Mandy Patinkin as Irwin Dempsey, Will's father
- Olivia Cooke as Dylan Dempsey, Will and Abby's daughter
- Kya Kruse as Young Dylan
- Alisa Sushkova as Baby Dylan
- Laia Costa as Isabel González
- Annette Bening as Dr. Cait Morris
- Antonio Banderas as Vincent Saccione
- Alex Monner as Rodrigo González, Javier and Isabel's son
- 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
- Jean Smart as Linda Dempsey, Will's mother
- Sergio Peris-Mencheta as Javier González
- Lorenza Izzo as Elena Dempsey-González, Rodrigo and Dylan's daughter
- Samuel L. Jackson as Himself
In August 2016, FilmNation Entertainment acquired the film's script written by Dan Fogelman, who will also direct the film; FilmNation bought the script after it appeared on The Black List. Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey will serve as producers on the film under their Temple Hill Entertainment banner. In November 2016, Oscar Isaac joined the cast of the film. In January 2017, Olivia Cooke, Antonio Banderas, Samuel L. Jackson, Olivia Wilde and Laia Costa joined the cast of the film. In March 2017, Annette Bening joined the cast of the film, alongside Mandy Patinkin and Alex Monner.
In December 2017, a fierce bidding war for the distribution rights of the film, which was between Amazon Studios, Universal Pictures, and Paramount Pictures, concluded with Amazon Studios winning the rights with a $10 million dollar plus bid. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2018, and is scheduled to be theatrically released on September 21, 2018 (United States). and on 4 January 2019 (United Kingdom).
In the United States and Canada, 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 in its opening weekend. Instead, it brought in $2.1 million on its opening weekend, finishing 11th for the week, behind a number of films that ranged from their second to their seventh week in theaters. This was the second worst opening, since 1982, by any film with a wide opening (2,500+ theaters).
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 11% based on 87 reviews, with an average rating of 3.6/10. 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 36 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 a "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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