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Life Itself

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Movie critics are so annoying. I’m going to give you an example with the movies out right now. Obviously, when you look at the general consensus, you can usually get a good idea whether a film is good or not. Searching was a terrific thriller, and all the critics agree on that. Peppermint was a horrible action picture, and almost all the critics agreed on that. But currently on Rotten Tomatoes, A Simple Favor is getting 83% good reviews, and it’s an awful mess that isn’t the least bit realistic. And yet Life Itself, which was actually moving and funny, is getting only 15%. Now, my wife wasn’t thrilled with Life Itself, but she admitted to liking a lot of the dialogue. She loved Samuel Jackson’s opening narration, and other things characters said to each other (of the 4 different stories they show you, she loved the first segment with Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde). She just didn’t care for the manipulative and sappy direction the movie took. And that’s fine. Valid complaint. I had minor problems with those things, but it didn’t sink the movie for me, because characters were all saying such interesting things. So if I didn’t buy one character saying and doing a certain thing, or the coincidences that needed to happen for some of the stories to connect….at the end of the day it didn’t bother me because I spent two hours being entertained by a terrific cast and interesting dialogue. I was watching people I wouldn’t mind having a drink with.

Writer/director Dan Fogelman, creator and executive producer of This is Us (which my wife does love), gets very humorous in the beginning, before taking us down some rather dark territory in this flick. Now, his movie Danny Collins (Al Pacino as an aging rock star) was awful, but he gets it right with this. Mostly. And he’s proven he can write. His film Crazy Stupid Love (Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell) was a lot better than anyone expected.

In this movie, you laugh, you cry…and you enjoy the ride (the audience at the screening broke into applause when it finished). The story deals with love, loss, and tragedy. It’s hard to explain what the movie is about without giving things away. I’ll try my best.

Instead of being one of those critics that wants to use the cliche complaint of “it felt like his TV show” or “I don’t believe [insert complaint here] would’ve happened”…I enjoy adults acting like adults in a movie. When a character is telling another character he doesn’t like the amount of time he is spending with his wife, the guy apologizes and it feels authentic. They don’t get into a big fist fight. When a character (Oscar Isaac) is talking to a psychiatrist (Annette Bening), it feels real. we had just seen him causing a drunken scene in a coffee shop. We find out his wife (Olivia Wilde) has left him, and listening to them discuss it was just brilliant. The way he tries joking, and she’s being serious. Outstanding stuff. We get flashbacks that are also interesting, as he courts his future wife in college. It’s fun watching them dress up like the characters in Pulp Fiction. it wasn’t overwritten. They had terrific chemistry and we watch it wondering how in the world she could ever leave this guy. Even when they have a disastrous dinner with his parents (Mandy Patinkin and Jean Smart)…and the mom tells her she’s glad her parents are dead…you’ve got a smile on your face. I’ve seen a thousand movies that have a mother-in-law that’s unbelievably cruel. The way it’s written here was perfect. It’s a mom saying something dumb, even if her heart is in the right place. And that’s why the daughter-in-law isn’t bothered by it. Now, that doesn’t mean the screenplay doesn’t have a few of the types of scenes we’ve seen before. A man making fun of his wife’s cooking, or a guy making fun of how Bob Dylan sings. But…it just breaks my heart, in fact I’m crying just typing this…how a man starts to appreciate Dylan’s underrated 1997 album Time out of Mind after his wife, who constantly praised his stuff, is now out of the picture.

Of course they name their daughter Dylan, and chapter two is her story (she’s played by Olivia Cooke). Now, I didn’t buy her rebelliousness being for the reasons the filmmaker thought would work, but that doesn’t mean her segment of the story didn’t work. I spent the entire drive home trying to explain that to my wife. A teenager can still be a rebel, even if they had a good upbringing.

Chapter three takes us to Andalusia, Spain. We meet Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas, who with his white beard, looks like a Spanish Mandy Patinkin). His scenes were hard for my wife and I to buy, but again…I enjoyed watching them. Saccione takes his top olive picker Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), and wants to become his buddy. He tells an interesting story about growing up with an abusive father. It’s a subtle reason he’s telling this story. I wish the rest of chapter three was as good as it started. The direction this segment goes, doesn’t quite work. The courtship with Javier and Isabel (Laia Costa) is cute. They end up having a son named Rodrigo who is adorable. We watch as he becomes a college student (Alex Monner).

I’m guessing most women will like this more than men, so it surprised me that I liked it and my wife was merely lukewarm, bordering on not liking it.

I say you bring your Kleenex, and watch an incredible cast take you on life’s interesting rollercoaster ride.

3 ½ stars out of 5.


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