Dan Fogelman knows a thing or two about bad reviews. However, he usually sees them coming. “I’ve made films where I knew the reviews were not going to be good, and I knew they probably shouldn’t be good,” the writer, 39, told Us Weekly exclusively on this week’s “Watch With Us” podcast. Life Itself was not one of those movies.
“The reviews aren’t even that mixed. They’re pretty brutal and eviscerating. We’re not sure why,” he told Us. Ahead of its release, Fogelman screened Life Itself for a group of “the fanciest of filmmakers, actors, directors and critics,” and the reception was incredible. The film, starring Olivia Wilde, Oscar Isaac and Antonio Banderas, later premiered in Toronto and received a 5-minute standing ovation. The critics in that room then reacted negatively: “Within minutes, these reviews were coming in and nobody quite understood what was going on.”
“Something happened when the film came out. We’re all a little confounded by it,” he admitted.
This wasn’t a first for Fogelman. While he’s behind some huge hits – Cars, Crazy Stupid Love, This Is Us – he’s hit some rough patches. In 2012, he created his first television show, The Neighbors, a sitcom for ABC about a New Jersey family living in an alien-filled world. It was silly, that he knew, but the reviews stated it was bad – something he didn’t expect.
“It was meant to be absurdist. I loved it. People who watched it were howling,” he said. However, an early trailer promoted the show in a way that offended some. “It took three months, 12 episodes, for us to start turning around a narrative. Instead of calling us absurdist, they called it stupid,” he said.
One of Fogelman’s low points? Trying to get a guest star on the show and having Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino pass. The show was later put on a “Worst of” list, something that Fogelman really has an issue with. “This has been my hill to die on. Why anybody wants to make a ‘10 Worsts of the Year’ list is beyond me. I really have an issue with it,” he said. Regardless, he figured out a way to turn things around for The Neighbors, and it got picked up for a second season.
“We were able to get a couple of good reviews deep into our first season. I cut a spot that was like, ‘When The Neighbors first launched, here’s what people were saying. Here’s what they’re saying now,’” he shared. “That piece created a narrative, which created more positive feedback.
Regardless of what critics say about Life Itself, Fogelman will stand by it and continue to believe in it. “I’m as confident in the movie as I’ve ever been with anything I’ve ever worked on,” he told Us.
Life Itself is in theaters now.
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