‘Life Itself,’ from ‘This Is Us’ creator, rudely toys with our hearts

SHARE ‘Life Itself,’ from ‘This Is Us’ creator, rudely toys with our hearts

The courtship and ill-fated marriage of Abby (Olivia Wilde) and Will (Oscar Isaac) is one of several story lines in “Life Itself.” | AMAZON STUDIOS

This Is Nuts.

Dan Fogelman, the creator of the acclaimed NBC drama “This Is Us,” is the writer-director of the multi-generational weeper “Life Itself,” which aspires to the heart-tugging success of his TV show, but comes across as a ghoulish, five-alarm fire of a movie.

“Life Itself” begins with a cinematic shell game, with Fogelman pulling a short con on the viewer for no discernible reason.

Well, one could argue the deceptive chain of events DOES serve a purpose: putting us on the defensive, wondering if we’re going to have the rug pulled out from under us again. Nothing like betraying the viewer’s trust at the beginning of the journey!

The convoluted madness begins with the story of Will (Oscar Isaac), who suffered a breakdown after his wife Abby (Olivia Wilde) left him. Will was institutionalized and has recently been released, and is now seeing a therapist (Annette Bening). I’d say she’s not a particularly astute therapist, seeing as how she doesn’t seem to realize the openly booze-guzzling, pill-popping, short-tempered, admittedly delusional Will has clearly lost touch with reality.

We flash back to Will’s creepy, smothering courtship of Abby when they were in college in the 1990s. What’s the opposite of whimsical and endearing? THIS scene.

Eventually there’s another, deeper flashback to Abby’s childhood, which was marred by unspeakable horrors.

When Abby was about 6, she was in the backseat of the family car when there was a horrendous accident. Abby’s parents were killed — she saw her father decapitated — but Abby survived.

She was taken in by her uncle, who molested her for years. The abuse stopped only after the teenage Abby shot the bastard in the knee.

Let’s exit that nightmare and return to the romance of Will and Abby.

They get married. They’re going to have a baby.

How about that! Maybe there’s hope for them.

There’s a whole lot more to the story of Will and Abby — but now it’s time for a trip to Spain.

Meet Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas), a wealthy landowner who takes an interest in the quiet but dedicated worker Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and puts Javier in charge of his olive-harvesting operation.

The years go by. (The years are always going by in one direction or another in this movie.)

Javier and his wife Isabel (Laia Costa) have a son named Rodrigo (played by Adrian Marrero as a boy, and Alex Monner as a young man).

How about that! Maybe there’s hope for them.


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Alas, eventually it’s one tragic episode after another for this family, and we’ll leave it at that.

But wait: What does any of this have to do with Will and Abby?

Suffice to say the New York and Spain stories will eventually intersect more than once, in depressingly predictable fashion.

Based on certain details revealed in an eye-rolling epilogue, “Life Itself” covers a span of some 80 years — and yet there’s only an occasional visual nod to the passing of time, e.g., someone gets a little grayer, or age lines are added to facial makeup.

Perhaps the constant and increasingly irritating references to Bob Dylan’s “Time Out of Mind,” and College Abby telling Will her thesis will be about how art relies on the Unreliable Narrator, and the “It’s a Wonderful Life”-type sequences, where characters stand inside moments from their past and comment on what’s happening — perhaps these are meta clues, telling us not to sweat the details and to just go with it.

Just go with it. Don’t ask why so many female characters are killed off in arbitrary and dismissive fashion. Don’t ask why so many male characters are selfish, controlling jerks. Don’t question why nearly every frame of this film feels emotionally dishonest and manipulative.

Don’t call this one of the worst movies of the year.

‘Life Itself’

Amazon Studiospresents a film written and directed by Dan Fogelman. Rated R (for language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use). Running time: 113 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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