Dan Fogelman has been building towards Life Itself for around a decade now.
Having cut his teeth as a screenwriter on the undeniably enjoyable family friendly fare “Cars,” “Fred Claus,” “Bolt,” and “Tangled,” Fogelman moved into more dramatic and weighty, but still always funny, territory with “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “The Guilt Trip,” “Last Vegas,” “Danny Collins” and, most successfully, with his hit show “This Is Us.”
“Life Itself” takes the themes and tones of Fogelman’s recent output and intensifies them to the nth degree.
Set over various generations of people in New York and Spain it merges the stories of Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde and Annette Benning with that of Laia Costa, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Antonio Banderas and Alex Mooner and then, for good measure, that of Olivia Cooke, Mandy Patinkin, and Jean Smart, too.
“I was trying to make something unusual and different but still tonally lived in a space that I like and that is familiar to me,” Fogelman recently explained over the phone to me.
“My belief is that often times when we go to the movie theaters nowadays or we go even to watch a television show we expect it to be one certain thing.”
“We call it an R-rated comedy, a heavy Oscar drama or a horror movie. I find that life is often a lot of things at once and from day to day.”
“I recently lost one of my best friends very early. It was one of the saddest days of my life. But it was also a day that was filled with joy and laughter and celebration.”
“It was a day filled with romantic beauty and there were surprises in that week and day. It should be more common that our films have different tones to them, because life has a lot of different tones to it.”
But while Fogelman is intent on taking his audiences on an emotional journey that will at first make you sad and cry before then making you tense and laugh, there is one rule that he strictly adheres to with his work.
“I have never wanted to make anything that made people feel worse than when they came in.”
“With this film, as I was writing and making it, the world and our country specifically is in a very weird and difficult place. We are very divided.”
“The internet has turned very dark and very cynical. While I want people to walk out of the movie theatre feeling better than they did, I didn’t want to pull any punches, too.”
“I didn’t want to pretend that life is very easy. My life has experienced great tragedy. And collectively the country and as a people we are all feeling a little down. No matter where we stand politically.”
“I think it is important to be reminded that despite all of the ugliness, tragedy, and all of the personal and interpersonal stuff that plagues us and affects us on a daily basis, if you take one step back you can see that there is real beauty and love and optimism in the human experience.”
“I think that is something we are forgetting right now. The goal of the film is to not sugarcoat how difficult and tragic and dark and scary life can often feel.”
“But at the same time speak out loud what my world view is. Which is essentially if you keep going and push the story further that there is love.”
“Life Itself” is released on September 21st.