'Life Itself' (2018) Movie Review
This Is A Load Of Hogwash
Hello mid-90s Tarantino rip-off trying to be filled to the brim with deep philosophy, but in reality being an absurdly pretentious shallow puddle of filthy mud that’s been stomped into by every passing citizen with toxically fumed manure covering the bottom of their worn out discount bin shoes… It’s been a while. This was one of the most difficult times I had sitting through a movie this year, setting aside political propaganda, this may have been the toughest sit I had in 2018. I loathed Life Itself from the opening scene to the final line uttered out of Oscar Isaac’s mouth; that being the words, “God damn”. Yes, Isaac… yes. “God damn” indeed. “God damn” this pseudo-philosophical, obnoxiously manipulative waxing of poetics babble, trying excessively hard to be too clever for its own good and failing horrendously for two hours straight. This was terrible. Heavy spoilers ahead, you've been warned.
The narrative is set into a few separate chapters, the first being centered on Osacar Isaac and Olivia Wilde’s romantic story arc, the second focus’s on the daughter of Isaac and Wilde’s characters, third involves a couple in Spain with Antonio Banderas thrown into the mix, fourth revolves around the son of the Spanish couple, and the fifth chapter is the daughter of the previous two offspring as she gives a speech about ‘life itself’. Every chapter is stuffed with some of the most pretentious kitsch writing I have ever seen in a movie. I meant it when I said this was very reminiscent of something that would have been released in the 1990’s that was obviously attempting to capitalize on being the next Tarantino, but had no clue how to capture that Tarantino styled writing so it comes out as this irritating dialog that tries to be witty and isn’t close with a story structure that fawns over itself with how clever it believes itself to be yet is wildly predictable. For a movie that claims ‘life itself’ being the ultimate unreliable narrator full of constant unpredictable occurrences, it contains every melodrama cliché in the book; we’ve got dialog about how love the strongest and most beautiful thing in the world, we’ve got tragic ‘out of nowhere’ death by car accident, we’ve got suicide, we’ve got cancer, we’ve got animal death, we’ve got a love triangle, we’ve got alcoholism, we’ve got the pseudo-intellectual writer describing ‘life itself’, we’ve got it all in this piece of crap! This film repeatedly talks about the spontaneity of life, yet somehow I was able to call practically everything that happens in this story; every minute I could tell the writer was patting himself on the back with every ‘twist’ he wrote into his screenplay thinking of himself as such the genius, but he’s not. This is hack material with the writer’s ego oozing out of the screen for two whole “God damn” hours.
The Art of Writing
No conversation between any two characters ever feels natural, not a single one. Which is a shame because these are phenomenal actors on screen clearly giving this film their all, but it doesn’t matter because of how terrible the writing is. Any discussion had here is always either this overly sappy poetic ramblings that go on for an eternity or it’s trying to be cool by throwing out pop culture and movie references for no reason. This movie brings up musician Bob Dylan so much I’m surprised he’s not actually credited in the movie. There are long stretches of two people talking about Bob Dylan’s music, there’s even a major character named after him. Or when Oscar Isaac is speaking with his therapist he’ll be in the middle of describing his wife and then he’ll go on a tangent about Natalie Portman. This movie has practically five references to Tarantino/Pulp Fiction; one being Isaac proclaiming himself and his wife to be a Tarantino scriptwriting duo together, Isaac and Wilde dress up as characters from Pulp Fiction, they sit down and watch a scene from Pulp fiction, and I’m guessing the fact that for no reason Samuel L. Jackson narrating the first few minutes of the movie is also a nod to Pulp Fiction. Seriously, there’s no reason why Jackson narrates the opening scene to this movie. He talks about how a character we only see this one time is obsessed with fantasy football, drops the F-bomb a bunch of times, physically enters the movie when someone gets randomly hit by a bus and says, “F**k this, I’m out” and is never seen or heard from in this movie again. Very much so needed, as one can tell.
In the first chapter with Isaac and Wilde, it is painfully apparent where it’s going with Isaac divulging that he had been institutionalized since Wilde ‘left’ him with all these terribly forced foreshadowing hints sprinkled about the ‘unreliable narrator’ and life can have a twist at any moment; we know she’s dead. We know that it is trying to leave ‘breadcrumbs’ when really they leave the entire loaf on the ground. The fate of Wilde’s character can be seen from a hundred miles away, especially when she stupidly stands in the middle of the road for an elongated period of time. Gee… I wonder where this could be leading to. And the chapter ends by Isaac shooting himself in the head right in front of his therapist, leaving a six month old baby girl behind because he refuses to live in a world without Wilde. How romantic. Let’s really screw up this kid by not only subjecting her to one deceased parent, but two! Perfect.
The next chapter isn’t much better with the editing being ‘oh so clever’ by showing the same scene over and over again between the daughter, Dylan… and her grandfather after her grandmother passes away. First being ‘what an eight year old would say if she knew how to describe what she was feeling’ then what she actually said in that moment, then what the grandfather would have said, then what he actually said. The intelligence of this writing blows my brains away. Particularly when, for some reason, characters are speaking about past experiences and the flashback scene will show those actual characters talking and interacting with the flashback. Not sure how that works, but I’ll wrack it up to the power of pretention and call it a day. With this plot thread that goes nowhere, we follow… Dylan… to her Bob Dylan cover band’s show… where she ends up punching a girl in the face and smashing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her face because she recorded her making out with a dude at a party. Dylan… walks out on the party after to go sit at the park bench to travel back in time to yell at her parents and watch her mother get hit by a bus in front of her. Oh, the heart wrenching scenes here are so good and make all the sense in the world without feeling the least bit artificial.
The third chapter has one of the worst love triangles I have ever seen; rivaling the denseness of the Twilight series with Bella, Edward and Jacob. A couple in Spain are in love, have a son together and a wealthy Antonio Banderas is also in love with the wife. This bothers the husband, rightfully so, and the couple with their son take a vacation to New York City so the boy may distract a certain bus driver just long enough to run over a pregnant lady that’s obsessed with Bob Dylan. This causes some tension within the household, resulting in the husband falling into alcoholism and even though he is capable of providing for his family he feels compelled to hand them over Antonio Banderas like property because Banderas can provide better things than him, I guess. I don’t know, this was ridiculous. Not only did the wife apparently not have any say in the matter of who she chooses to be with, but also she has no choice on the matter of just not being with anyone. The alcoholic husband completely disappears from her and her son’s life and she makes it very clear to Banderas that she is not in love with him in the slightest, so why does she have to be with either of them? It’s okay because the husband returns a decade and a half later to watch her die of cancer. “Thanks pal for abandoning me and my son for all these years, now let’s hold hands with Antonio Banderas as I sink into the dark abyss of death”. Beautiful.
And wouldn’t you know it, from all these little circumstances, they all led to the boy (Rodrigo) who was a direct result of killing Dylan’s family just so happens to come across her at the very place where her mother died and that’s when the two fall madly in love. Because the true secret of ‘life itself’ is two hours worth of misery porn and then it’s all redeemed because of the power of love. I would have loved to have seen how strong the power of love remained if Rodrigo told Dylan that he caused the accident that basically claimed the lives of both of her parents. Although supposedly he must have since their daughter in the last chapter of the film is narrating most of this story, so at some point Dylan must have found out about all of this and I suppose didn’t care that her whole life she was emotionally lost and angry because she felt as though she were born from death itself. Brilliant.
Life Is About The Little Happenstances
I hate Life Itself. There are some ideas here that possibly could have worked with a much stronger writer, but it falls flat because the movie has its head up its own rear and it is sniffing hard. Every pretentious line and predictable turn and irritatingly dumb character motivation had me slamming my head against a table. The only times I felt remotely ‘okay’ with what was happening on screen was the brief time spent with Mandy Patinkin as Dylan’s grandfather because he is giving this performance every bit of emotion and talent that he has. Everyone is acting with 100% effort and emotion with this script. And there were some moments, filmmaking wise, where the cinematography was relatively solid. This isn’t a bad looking film at all, it is just written and directed and edited with the ego of a man who believes his skills to be God-like, and “God damn” you can tell easily. I never felt invested in any character because the dialog felt so forced and unnaturally philosophical or trying to be hip, the story structure and editing felt ripped right out of the handbook on ‘How to be Tarantino’, there was just sheer pretention injected into every frame and I couldn’t stand it. This is not a movie about ‘life itself’, this is a guy trying to come across as a genius, but makes himself look like a moron instead. If you are a fan of melodramatic, pseudo-insightful conversations with not a single surprise to be found then here you go! For me, I’ll stick with… anything else, thank you very much.
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© 2018 John Plocar