Life Itself bombed at the box office over the weekend. The film, which was written and directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, died on arrival. It made just $2.1 million nationwide. According to Variety, the movie had one of the worst openings ever for a film debuting in over 2,500 locations — and only picked up about $807 per theater.
For Fogelman, it’s a big disappointment, especially after the success of his NBC show This Is Us. Life Itself is filled with big names like Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, and Mandy Patinkin. How could it have flopped so bad?
The film debuted earlier in September at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was immediately panned by critics. Many critics didn’t like its tragic tone and felt that the plot was over-the-top. Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac play two college sweethearts from New York — and the story follows them through the beginning of their romance in college all the way to the birth of their first child. There are unexpected events throughout their lives that reverberate throughout generations and across continents.
In an interview with TooFab, the director responded to the critics by saying, “There’s a disconnect between something that is happening between our primarily white male critics who don’t like anything that has any emotion.” But Alison Willmore — a critic for BuzzFeed — disagrees with Fogelman and believes that the film caters very well to the “white male gaze” by including “multiple manic pixie dream girls.” Willmore goes on to cite Olivia Wilde’s character giving a monologue about how great Bob Dylan is, and characters who adore director Quentin Tarantino.
But according to a review from the Detroit News, the film’s plot isn’t just too much for viewers. It contains a lot of clichés as well. Viewers that don’t appreciate profanity likely won’t be fans either. “Life Itself plays like This is Us: The Movie, but freed of the shackles of network TV, he [Fogelman] tosses around f-bombs like a 1st grader who just learned the word.” Fogelman is so fond of using the f-word in the film that even the two main characters name their dog after it. “Life Itself does everything to make you hate it and its characters from the get-go. Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde) are a couple so insufferable that they name their dog after the F-word, so sympathy is tough to garner when tragedy strikes.”
Despite the negative reviews from critics, Life Itself may prove to be popular among non-critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently has an 11 percent critics score, but it has an 80 percent audience score, indicating that many people liked what they saw.