If the title itself didn’t give it away, fans of the sappy television hit “This is Us” will know what to expect from “Life Itself.” The new film from “This is Us” guru Dan Fogelman is a Xerox of his TV show. Grab some Kleenexes and cue the schmaltz.
Divided into chapters, Fogelman goes multigenerational in “Life Itself,” guiding us through the lives of a handful of people on a couple of continents. Anxious New Yorker Will (Oscar Isaac) bends his therapist’s (Annette Bening) ear, droning on about his failed marriage to Abby (Olivia Wilde) and Bob Dylan.
Cut to the future. There’s Will and Abby’s daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke), an angry punk chanteuse who specializes in, SURPRISE, Bob Dylan songs.
Jump across the pond to Spain. There the wealthy Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas) promotes one of his workers, Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta). With the extra money is able to marry his girlfriend Isabel (Laia Costa), but later a tragedy, witnessed by their son Rodrigo (Àlex Monner), traumatizes the boy. Saccione pays for therapy and later, after some turmoil, pays for Rodrigo to go to school in New York, which co-incidentally is where the story comes full circle.
See how everything connects in the grand soap opera of life?
There’s more. Mandy Patinkin pops up as Will’s father, a cancer diagnosis rocks a family and don’t forget molestation. It’s a litany of tragedy—suicide, mental health issues, abandonment and family dysfunction—that feels like a sappy Afterschool Special written by Nikolai Gogol, coated in a fine dusting of schmaltz. It longs to be a rich, complex look at life, love, loss and olive oil but is instead a metaphorical Crock-Pot—a slow burn of the story that never comes to a boil—that, unlike the one on Fogelman’s TV show, never actually catches fire.