“Life Itself” is one tearjerking, tragic trainwreck

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“Life Itself” is one tearjerking, tragic trainwreck

Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac in “Life Itself.”

Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac in “Life Itself.”

courtesy of IMDb

Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac in “Life Itself.”

courtesy of IMDb

courtesy of IMDb

Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac in “Life Itself.”

Trevor Tyle, Life Editor

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Dan Fogelman may be riding the wave of his hit TV series, “This Is Us,” but unfortunately for the Emmy-nominated writer-director, his sappy-yet-successful formula may have gone stale. In his latest effort, the star-studded “Life Itself,” Fogelman essentially makes viewers watch everything they love about “This Is Us” wither and die right before their eyes.

Split into four chapters, the film tells a multigenerational story of love, loss and, of course, life, all stemming from a passionate college romance in New York. At its center are Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde), the aforementioned college lovebirds, and their tumultuous rise and fall.

As the film continues, Abby and Will fade into the background as their troubled daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke) becomes the focus, struggling with the harsh realities of her parents’ past.

But like I said, this film spans over two decades and multiple continents, so alas, we are transported to Spain, where we meet Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), who oversees the land of a prosperous olive grower (Antonio Banderas). Javier and his wife Isabel (Laia Costa) have a son, Rodrigo (Adrian Marrero), whose fate is directly intertwined with that of Will and Abby’s back in New York.

As if this wasn’t convoluted enough, Rodrigo grows up to be the focus of the film’s fourth chapter. Now played by Àlex Monner, he must come to terms with his own past and the past of his parents to complete the puzzle that is “Life Itself.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking—how the hell is this film even remotely coherent? Well, did I say it was?

For the most part, “Life Itself” is easy to follow, and it makes sure to spell out all of its ridiculous plot twists. The film makes perfect sense by the time it ends, but at that point, the damage has already been done. Though its four separate storylines are connected, they spend most of the movie feeling far too disconnected to have any emotional resonance once the end credits roll.

That’s not to say audiences won’t be moved by many of the film’s unnecessarily depressing moments. Those familiar with Fogelman’s work on “This Is Us” should expect nothing less, though the payoff is far greater on TV.

“Life Itself” often finds Fogelman confusing “sad” and “morbid” as interchangeable concepts, creating some of the most horrifying scenes I have ever had to sit through in a film. Not only does it force audiences to watch a character gruesomely get Regina George’d—hit by a bus, for those of you who haven’t experienced the cultural masterpiece that is “Mean Girls”—but then we have to relive it over and over and over again through different angles and perspectives.

Needless to say, the film is a tragedy—but not just in a narrative sense. Beyond the frequently depressing subject material, the movie’s script is an absolute mess, which is a damn shame given the remarkable talent among the cast. Everyone in this film delivers, giving a whole new meaning to doing the most with the least. Isaac and Annette Bening, who plays his character’s therapist, offer particularly noteworthy performances, though the entire cast shines in spite of being buried under such a tainted and tangled script.

Filled with clichés, characters you don’t know well enough to care about and wasted potential, this film is like a trainwreck—or rather, a buswreck—that you can’t take your eyes off.

If you’re willing—or able—to sit through its gore and general lack of cohesion, “Life Itself” might be an experience worth having. But for most people, it’s probably just two hours of your life you’ll never get back.

Rating: 2/5 stars