If you were expecting a light, or even just endearing date movie, move along. Dan Fogelman (This is Us) has delivered an interestingly structured film that is well-executed, but it is none of those things. Life Itself is more of a “triumphant tragedy” with some amazing performances. But it is a long path through some dark times to get to that triumph. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have humor and lighter moments throughout, but part of the point of the film is the ups and downs of life.
Oscar Isaac (Annihilation) and Olivia Wilde (Love the Coopers) really dominate the story. Not only do they work well together, but their individual stories are also complexly layered. Antonio Banderas (The Expendables 3) also has a challenging role that he sells well. The rest of the cast are very good but don’t really have the time to have equal impact. Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds), for instance, has a powerful presence, but without the time to expand on or add to her character.
This is a story that may have worked better on the small screen or as a book. It is clever and its message is strong, it just doesn’t get there in the way you expect. And, frankly, the ending loses a bit of steam. I still think the film is worth seeing at some point, but go in expecting drama more than comedy or light romance. I felt positive leaving the theater, but it was a more sobering feeling than a warm, fuzzy one.