"Life Itself" is one of those movies that thinks it's saying something much more philosophical than it actually is at any point. In fact, the movie is barely saying anything at all.
This false, mawkish, and unabashedly contrived offering comes from Dan Fogelman, creator of TV's "This is Us," who seems to think it serves some kind of purpose. Instead, it's a movie in search of a meaning. It's not spoiling anything to say that these types of ensemble films have some kind of intertwining storyline, and Fogelman's script takes every obvious route possible while failing to build any dramatic momentum on its slow march to inevitability.
With nary a story in sight, there is no purpose trying to wring a plot description out of Fogelman's misbegotten melodrama. The movie just finds a collection of familiar faces like Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening, Olivia Cooke, Mandy Patinkin, Antonio Banderas, and Laia Costa spouting heavy-handed dialog about - you guessed it! - life itself. At one point, Wilde's Abby decides to write her college thesis on the "unreliable narrator" known as life. The way she discusses her ideas about how life misdirects you at almost every turn is one such accidental metaphor: Fogelman has written about his own movie.
It's unclear what could have attracted such a talented cast to this material. Maybe the faux-profundity worked better on the page than it does as an executed film but that also seems unlikely. No one really gets a moment to shine because everything feels entirely rushed until the last act, which shifts focus to an entirely different storyline. It seems superfluous until the manufactured ending.
Fogelman has been writing scripts for a while and he's often cited for the modestly charming "Crazy Stupid Love," but his career has been propelled over the past few years by the enormity of "This is Us." He brings his soapy inclinations to the current project with nothing to back him up. Frankly, it's almost insulting how much he thinks he can trick his audience without even trying to do so at all.
Sometimes, you are warned by early buzz about how bad a movie it is. Sometimes, that warning is not enough.