Review by-Jarrett Leahy
The live streaming feed of Steve James’ documentary about Roger Ebert has ended almost 50 minutes ago, and I’m sitting here with a page of jumbled thoughts and reactions strewn up and down my Open Office document. It is a chaotic mixture of sentence fragments and rambling streams of thought patiently waiting to be placed in the correct spot. What all these words and thoughts have in common is they are there to help me try to share how touching and befitting a tribute Life Itself is to the world’s most beloved movie critic Roger Ebert.
It was reported that Roger’s wife Chaz had decided not to see the final film until its premiere. By the end of the film I’m not ashamed to admit I had misty eyes, so I can’t imagine the emotions she experienced after seeing what Steve James has lovingly been able to create. Using Roger’s memoir as a template, James combined the perfect balance of clips, personal pictures, home videos and interviews along with excerpts from the book used as narration to respectfully and honestly capture the many layers, both good and bad, of a much admired man. I had spent the last few weeks feverishly trying to finish Life Itself before today’s premiere and found various levels of excitement seeing so many of the people who were prominent subject matter in the book now appearing on screen to share thoughts and memories about their dear friend. I was also surprised to see the film’s creation had been started long before Roger’s death. This led to great deal of moving and insightful footage of Roger in the rehab facility. Some of these images weren’t the easiest to watch, but I came away with an even higher level of respect for the man as you see him remain upbeat and hopeful despite unimaginable daily struggles and frustrations.
Over the next few days as the first run of initial reviews begin trickling out, I’m sure many of the same superlatives will be shared. Please allow me to share a few of my own. Life Itself is yet another testament to the skill Steve James possesses as a documentarian. For me, it is a beautiful film that gracefully celebrates the grand life of a man who brought joy to so many of us over the years through his prolific writing and shared love of cinema. Borrowing a line from the film, I hope this documentary will be a wind of peace for the many fans who still feel his loss every time we watch a film and wonder what Roger would have thought.-JL