LIFE ITSELF – Review by Susan Granger

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Many years ago, silent film star Lillian Gish observed: “Hollywood is an emotional Detroit, where you buy a catharsis instead of a car.”

So we know movies are emotionally manipulative, but the much lauded TV writer/director Dan Fogelman (creator of “This Is Us”) pushes the sentimentality envelope too far in this mawkish, multigenerational melodrama.

After a bizarre introduction by Samuel L. Jackson, the first tale involves the ‘perfect’ marriage of New York college sweethearts Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde) and her subsequent pregnancy. Then a freak accident occurs, as lovesick Will woefully relates to his therapist, Dr. Cait Morris (Annette Bening).

When she grows up, their angst-filled daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke) – named after Bob, whose song “Make You Feel My Love” is repeatedly used – becomes a punk rocker with a group called PB&J, much to the consternation of her devoted grandparents (Mandy Patinkin, Jean Smart).

A subsequent chapter is devoted to a family in rural Spain; it’s in Spanish with English subtitles.

When conscientious olive-picker Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) is promoted to foreman by wealthy, Manzanilla-sipping landowner Sig. Saccione (Antonio Banderas), he marries his beloved, beatific Isabelle (Laia Costa) and they have an adorable son, Rodrigo. Then tragedy strikes.

When he grows up, haunted Rodrigo (Alex Monner) meets rebellious Dylan – and so the story goes.

While the interconnected families and time shift structure seem to work on NBC’s “This Is Us,” they’re simply capricious and confusing here, as is the abrupt swing from Spanish to English for the pivotal ‘reveal’ scene. And the profound subject of Abby’s dissertation – the literary device of the unreliable narrator – is superficially glib.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Life Itself” is an existentially contrived 5, revolving around the fate’s frustrating unpredictability.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.