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Life Itself Review: Two Thumbs Up

Life Itself is the chronicling of the life of famed film critic, Roger Ebert. In this Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie) directed, incredibly intimate memoir, we are shown footage from Ebert’s illustrious career alongside material from the last months of Ebert’s life.

Roger Ebert

Playing beautifully alongside clips from At the Movies, old newsreel footage and a myriad of interviews from colleagues and friends, are Ebert’s own words from his autobiography Life ItselfLife Itself is oftentimes quite funny, especially the stories of his many exploits at Ebert’s favorite after-work watering holes. His friends paint the picture of a lovable genius that could regale crowds with his impeccable storytelling. They fondly recount tales of his days as editor at the Daily Illini, the University of Illinois’s daily newspaper. Of course, memories of Ebert were not all positive. Gene Siskel’s wife, Marlene details the many arguments and ego-driven chest-pounding between Siskel and Ebert during their twenty-four year career together.

The real heart of the documentary is the ever-cheerful Ebert. James is able to get a very personal look at Ebert and his wife of twenty years, Chaz, during one of his lengthy hospital visits. Ebert, who suffered from thyroid-turned-jaw cancer, lost the use of his voice, and used a talking computer to communicate. Surrounded by his grandchildren and a team of caregivers, Ebert is constantly churning out essays and reviews for his blog, RogerEbert.com. Ebert is constantly engaging those around him (including James), and is unflinchingly honest about his diagnosis. Unabashed by his situation, Ebert gives us wonderfully telling, and often incredibly funny elements of his life through an e-mail exchange with James. We catch a glimpse of how his opinions have changed and matured while contrasted against the archival footage, and truly get a sense of his attitude towards life.

Roger Ebert

As much as this is a story of Roger Ebert’s life and achievements, Life Itself is an up-close look at the relationship between Roger and Chaz. Faced with an incredible amount of adversity, the two only seem closer together. Even without his notepad or talking computer, Roger can communicate with Chaz via a quick glance, smile or hand motion. Life Itself presents us with a bold look at love, to what ends those whom are in it  and what they will go to for the other. Steadfastly by his side, Chaz is Roger’s hope and reason to continue on his path to recovery; she is his greatest motivation.

Life Itself is certainly a worthy depiction of the world’s most prolific film critic. Full of hope, love and friendship, Life Itself not only gives its audience a look at Roger Ebert’s life, but also a glimpse of what life means. It is a story of the American dream; the son of an electrician, born in Urbana, Illinois, conquered the world of cinema, won a Pulitzer Prize and touched the lives of millions.

Rating
8.5
Pros
  • Beautiful Documentary Structure
  • Wonderfully Funny Archival Footage
  • Heart Warming Interviews with Family and Friends
Cons
  • Heavily-Focused on the Last Days of Ebert's Life

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