TV shows and movies cross paths all the time. Once, it was rare to see a television show make the jump to the big screen, but now it happens so regularly there’s no need to comment on the phenomenon.
Life Itself, however, is a little different. The film, which focuses on three families united by an unlikely event, is written and directed by Dan Fogelman. That’s the same guy who created the hit TV series This Is Us. And while the film Life Itself is not a movie version of This Is Us, they’re almost siblings. The two projects are closely connected in ways that have nothing to do with the story.
Here’s how Life Itself captures the essence of This Is Us.
The TV Show…
For the uninitiated, This Is Us weaves an emotionally-charged story across generations. The primary focus is three siblings: twins Kevin and Kate and the adopted Randall. Their parents, Jack and Rebecca Pearson, are also key players.
While the film is set in the family’s modern day, stories are told with regular flashbacks to fill in the backstory of the family and their relationships. One important aspect of the story is that Jack Pearson is dead, having been killed in an accident when the children were teenagers. As adults, the family kids have their own relationships. All involved are still, in different ways, processing the loss of their father.
…And The Movie
The film Life Itself seems to be made from the same template. There are multiple families, seen in more than one generation, whose stories overlap in ways that are not immediately obvious.
The film begins with Oscar Isaac’s character, Will, seeing a therapist played by Annette Bening. Will is devastated after the end of his relationship with Olivia Wilde’s character Abby, who was the great love of his life. We won’t give you too many details of Will and Abby’s relationship, but fans of This Is Us will see common elements almost immediately.
(The main difference is that, without the standards and practices department of a TV network looking over his shoulder, Fogelman writes some pretty mean, and very funny dialogue.)
Life Itself also illustrates the story of Irwin (Mandy Patinkin) and his granddaughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke) as she gets old enough to go out on her own. Dylan has some stuff to work out, which she spews out into the world in part through her punk rock band. She’s a serious “take no prisoners” vocalist; don’t cross her when she’s on stage.
And then there’s Javier, played by the impressive Sergio Peris-Mencheta. Javier falls in love with Isabel (Laia Costa) while working for an even-handed and slightly lonely man played by Antonio Banderas. Javier and Isabel’s family is perhaps the film’s most touching relationship and helps tie the entire movie together.
The Lives We Weave
As in This Is Us, the film is really about the lives we build for ourselves, and the ways in which our decisions and loves affect other people around us. There are surprises in the movie, but it’s the sort of story you’ll go back to after the initial effect of the surprise is gone, because it has such a rich emotional base.
Just as on the show, the individual stories in Life Itself are effective on their own, but the real power is cumulative. As we see how one story affects others, the emotional power is magnified.
It’s easy to see our lives as isolated bubbles that don’t touch any other, but Dan Fogelman’s show has earned a huge viewership because it so effectively proves that isn’t the case. This Is Us also shows us the beauty in being open to those connections – and soon Life Itself will explore that idea in the span of a single movie.
Life Itself opens on September 21.