Life Itself (2014)

I had just started blogging when I first read about Life Itself. A fellow blogger described it as one of the finest films he had seen and a must-see for movie lovers, so I added to my watch-list. It's only later that I learnt it was a documentary and I kept putting it off ever since. I'm really into documentaries now, and before this phase wears off, I checked it out.

The documentary tells the story of renowned, Pulitzer winning film critic and television personality Roger Ebert, summing up both his publish and private life and documenting the end of it as he is dying of cancer.

It isn't your typical biography though. In fact, instead of starting from childhood and touching the most important moments and aspects of Ebert's life, the film is structured in a non-linear way as it presents different aspects of Ebert's life in a random order which makes the documentary somewhat rambling.

Despite that, Life Itself still effectively captures the wonderfully skilled writer and intellectual, and the quirky and unique man Roger Ebert was.

This biographical documentary has a lot to teach, especially to someone who, like me, is not that familiar with Roger Ebert. We learn about the early stages of his career, when he was a kid writing a local newspaper; when he arrived at the Chicago Sun-Times and became the youngest film critic. We learn about his love-hate relationship with fellow film critic Gene Siskel, which is probably the most interesting, fascinating aspect of the film and deserves a documentary of its own. We learn about the incredible legacy he left behind, and it's truly amazing to see how much influence one man had over an entire industry.

Magnolia Pictures
As I mentioned above, Life Itself gives us an insight into Ebert's personal life as well. We learn about his struggle with alcoholism, how he would spend his nights in a bar with his colleagues, telling stories and drinking, and how he would walk home wishing he was dead. We learn about his wonderful relationship with his wife, Chaz, a woman who assisted him in any way she could and stood by his side until the end. And it's heartbreaking to watch him battle with cancer but it's also inspiring how brave he was during the final act of his life.

What I liked the most about Life Itself is that it was made by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), a friend of Ebert, but it does not shy away from Ebert's flaws. It's not only the alcoholism but the fact that he was quite a cocky, arrogant young man and that he could be pretty egotistic.

However, I don't know if it's because I wasn't familiar with him, but I didn't find it emotional nor moving.


  1. I got very emotional watching it but I also grew up hearing "Siskel and Ebert give it two thumbs up!" I still think it's weird Roeper was left out of it completely if I remember correctly. I'm glad you saw it!

  2. Well, at least you enjoyed it as he's definitely someone we film buffs miss as the man LOVED films. He also didn't care what kind of film it is whether it's a major art house film or a B-horror movie. Plus, he would champion filmmakers who were starting out and always gave them some exposure. We're never going to get another Ebert.

    1. Exactly! That's why he'll always be the best critic there'll ever be.

  3. I miss Siskel & Ebert at the Movies. The 2 of them would clash but they each had a high respect for the other. My mom used to watch it and mark down the movies withbthe thumbs up or down. I kept those papers. Siskel died of a Cancerous brain tumor and Ebert died of cancer as well robbing him of his speech. He was brilliant but, boy, did her know it. I recall how he loved the old timers of Hollywood. He talked how he wanted to interview Lee Marvin and, instead of having it set up in some hotel room, being told what to ask and what not to ask and only given 5 minutes, Marvin invited him and Siskel to his home. When he opened the door he was in a bathrobe with a cigarette in one hand and a scotch in the other. He proceeded to answer all the questions while they all had a drink or 5. I want to see this documentary very much and hope to one day.