Life Itself, an attempt by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman to bring his brand of sentimental cross-generational storytelling to the big screen, has been obliterated by critics. Boasting a meager 14% on Rotten Tomatoes, nearly every critic — man, woman, minority — hates this film and all its emotionally manipulative claptrap. But, according to Fogelman, they just don’t get it. Or more specifically, “white male critics” don’t get it.
Like many a great director whose “vision” is obscured by a barrage of bad criticism, Fogelman has pointed the blame at the film critics themselves. More specifically, the “white male critics who don’t like anything that has any emotion.”
Responding to the film’s poor reviews in an interview on TooFab.com, Fogelman said that there is a “disconnect” between the critical and audience response to the film — which is just a hair away from claiming that this movie is “for the fans” (what fans?).
“A couple of the early reviews that have come out about this movie feel so out of left field to everybody who’s a part of this movie. There’s a disconnect between something that is happening between our primarily white male critics who don’t like anything that has any emotion.”
Oh boy, where to begin? Sure, the film criticism field is overwhelmingly white and male, but when the majority of the critics lambasting your film are women or people of color, your argument kind of falls apart.
IndieWire’s Kate Erbland, calls it “an unholy combination of ‘Rashomon’ and ‘Babel,’ [which] strings together seemingly disparate plotlines into one massive, messy tableau of (sorry, has to be done) life itself, a life that zings toward the warm embrace of death.” Westword’s April Wolfe jabbed, “There is about as much honesty and genuine emotion in this film as you would find in a damage-control ExxonMobil commercial.” LA Times’ Justin Chang said it was “full of cheap shocks and torturous metaphysics and sporting perhaps the most annoying title of the year.” And Thrillist’s Esther Zuckerman calls the film “so manipulative that it just makes you want to pull your eyes out.”
In fact, the few positive reviews for Life Itself, a cross-generational film which follows a couple in New York and the trans-Atlantic reverberations of their love story, mostly come from white male critics.
But wait, Fogelman is not done. This time he’s tackling the “broken” film criticism field:
“I think that something is inherently a little bit broken in our film criticism right now. I also think it’s somewhat broken in our television criticism, I think that the people with the widest reach are getting increasingly cynical and vitriolic, and I think there are a couple of genres and a couple of ideas that they [attack, which] doesn’t speak to not just a mainstream audience, but also a sophisticated audience.”
Yes, in a year where Paddington 2 is the highest-rated movie of 2018, Fogelman’s argument about cynical film critics being immune to emotion totally holds up (it doesn’t). Next time you attack critics for being too male and white — a valid argument! — do it over a movie whose beautiful, heterosexual couples and manic pixie dream girls aren’t explicitly made to appeal to those white male critics.
Life Itself is now out in theaters.
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