Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Life Itself

You might think that a documentary about the most famous (debatably) film critic who ever lived would be my dream doc, and therefore my review would certainly be biased.  Prior to seeing it, I certainly thought it might.  But the reality is, I never really loved Roger Ebert as a critic or as a person.  I only coveted his career.  (And the same for Gene Siskel.)  But there's no doubt that every broadcast film critic (myself included) is just doing a version of what these guys pioneered some 40 years ago.

So needless to say I was excited to see this film.  But, surprisingly, its focus really wasn't on film criticism.  Sure, it covers his combative and childish relationship with Siskel.  And yes, it goes all the way back to his childhood and early career and the Chicago Sun Times.  But it seems like the focal point of the film is his final years, battling cancer, and the unconditional love he shared with his surviving wife and step children.  In essence, this is more of a romance and inspirational story than a niche documentary on the history film criticism.  For some, that may be a pleasant surprise.  For me, it was a bit of a disappointment, as times this movie has the most energy and comedy are in the archival clips of Ebert and Siskel exchanging barbs and appearing on the Tonight Show.  This is a really good doc, to be sure.  I just want another two hours dedicated to Siskel & Ebert at the Movies.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  Film buffs will enjoy it for nostalgic purposes.  Women will enjoy it for its romance.  Cancer survivors may appreciate it for its positivity in the face of a horrible disease.

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