“This is Us” creator Dan Fogelman has inadvertently provided a stark lesson on key differences between TV and movies with “Life Itself,” the new film that he wrote and directed. Featuring similar emotional beats, the movie suffers by cramming all that melodrama into a confined space, heightening the sense of manipulation to what feels like absurd levels.
“Life Itself” deals with many of the same themes as Fogelman’s hit NBC series, including the interconnectedness of life and the potentially crippling grief associated with losing loved ones. The central point, however, hinges on the sheer unpredictability of it all, while wrapping that in the reassuring message that recovery is possible despite the depths we might reach.
That Hallmark-card-like sentiment, alas, is delivered in pretty thudding fashion. And while there are lines of dialogue and performances that tug at the heartstrings — the death of a parent, or a parent’s desire to help and protect a child, offer strong hooks — it’s presented with so little subtlety the net effect is more annoying than uplifting.
The structure of “Life Itself” largely thwarts efforts to synopsize the plot. Suffice it to say that the story unfolds from the perspective of multiple characters, beginning with Will (Oscar Isaac), who uses sessions with his therapist (Annette Bening) to recount his mad, obsessive courtship of Abby (Olivia Wilde).