There are fewer films that I’m as nervous about writing a review for than I am for this beautiful ode to the life and journey of one of the most celebrated and beloved men in the cinematic world; Roger Ebert. Yes, ‘Life Itself’ is a film so elegantly and yet honestly crafted that I’m nearly at a loss for words at how best to convey what this film means to us as cinephiles and yet I feel compelled to try my hardest to give it justice, since it is that beautifully important.
And yet, when you are reviewing a film about a man who pretty much wrote the greatest reviews of any film critic, there is this element of inferiority that overtakes my fingers.
No matter how many strokes I make, my words will never be as satisfying than had Ebert just penned this review himself.
When Roger Ebert died, back in April of 2013, it was a huge blow to the cinematic community. Ebert, whether you agreed with him or not, was the most well know and well respected film critic who ever was, and he had become, in many ways, a celebrity as powerful and as well respected as the ones we keep fawning over, movie after movie. When I heard that they were going to release a documentary about his life, and more importantly, about the final months of his life, I was skeptical. With such a beloved figure, it is easy to get lost in sentiment and I was truly afraid that this would be another one of those instances where demons were skirted and sainthood was emphasized, and I have such a hard time with biased depictions of real people. I can’t love someone who never feels real. I’d rather know all of your flaws, even the hard to swallow flaws, than be force-fed this idea that you are perfect.
Roger Ebert was not perfect, and he knew that, and more importantly Steve James knew that, and so the biggest compliment that I can hand ‘Life Itself’, which is basically the biggest compliment you can hand any documentary, is that this feels wholly honest.
From his humble beginnings to his rapid rise to fame to his ego-centric alienations, to his oddly lovable charm to his complete awareness of his nature and embrace of his unexpected charming honesty, Roger Ebert feels like a real man to us, like a complete picture, thanks to this beautiful documentary. It never takes an easy way out of anything. It shows Ebert at his worse, whether it be from depictions of his past demons or showing us his final hours, his deplorable situation, letting us in to those moments that no one but those closest to him were allowed to see, and because of this we can truly love this man. He was a flawed soul, and he rubbed some people wrong, but even those people fell in love with him because the one thing Ebert always was, was himself.
The hole that Ebert left in the cinematic community is still visible. I’m not sure if it will ever be filled. Up until his final breath, Ebert was there to give us of himself, to share with us, to remain with us, and the transcendent beauty of ‘Life Itself’ is that, through this stunning documentary, we are with him once again.
Now, let’s watch another movie.
An A from me, borderline A+ (I'm trying so hard to stay away from handing everything an A+, but this day in particular is testing me strongly), it is that beautiful, and the Oscar snub is, in a word, disgusting.