In the Dark: Small screen antics flop in Fogelman’s film

In the Dark: Small screen antics flop in Fogelman’s film

Life Itself

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Antonia Banderas

Directed by: Dan Fogelman

Rated: PG-13

 

Let this be a lesson: what works for television doesn’t always work for a feature film. Writer and director Dan Fogelman, the architect of the NBC hit series “This is Us,” spent his summer hiatus making this film for which the more correct title should have been “Life Bummer.”

With 13 episodes spread over 7-8 months, Fogelman has woven a complex fabric for one family that works against a fluid timeline and reveals details of each character from which to build on for future story arcs. This is nearly impossible in a two-hour film that also spans generations and travel hops across the world. While compelling, this is clearly designed for those thrill seekers that enjoy the emotional rollercoaster. Fogelman is pretty shameless about it, which makes it all the more maddening.

It follows two college coeds played by Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde, into marriage and then parenthood. A tragedy wobbles the course of their lives at an intersection that introduces the second act which takes place in Spain with Antonio Banderas playing a wealthy landowner who develops a closeness with his foreman (Sergio Peris-Menchata) and his wife (Laia Monner).

This latter half of the movie is the more enjoyable, although it’s not without heaping helping of melodrama. The actors speak in their native tongue and, particularly Banderas gets a lengthy monologue scene that refuses to be hurried along for our short attention spans.

Still, I’m wondering has there ever been a movie with more bad luck for the characters? Almost none are spared some tragedy to the point that after a while one begins to wonder if it is contagious. No, it’s just Fogelman’s way of weaving a storyline together.

With a cast that also boasts Mandy Patinkin, Jean Smart, Annette Bening and Olivia Cooke, it’s not hard to surmise that no one gets a lot of screen time. This is way too crowded, not to mention it’s a waste of talent. Oddly, it’s Banderas that probably has more than anyone, and despite the character’s obvious flaws, he ended up being my favorite character.

What the story lacks in vision, it makes up for with Fogelman’s direction. He makes great use of New York’s city streets and outdoor locations and what can be said for verdant beauty of Spain’s olive groves.

But, I have a natural dislike for movies that allow characters to give dissertations on subjects like Bob Dylan’s definitive album as cozy pillow talk and then later have one of the characters bear the name Dylan. Nope, I’m not buying this cutesy, sentimental dreck for the sake of losing some tears to Fogelman’s lust for life’s lemons, which cannot all be made into lemonade.

If you don’t mind overt manipulation and you’re a fan of Fogelman’s television show, then by all means, step up to the ticket window and by a seat to Weepyville. Just be sure you understand it’s a two-hour non-stop ride of “Life.”

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