This movie can go not so bad or very bad depending on the mood. For me, it went really bad for the first half so I had to stop watching it. Afterwards, when I picked it up again, it didn’t seem so bad and near the end, it actually felt a little nice.
The movie is nothing to rave about and I felt disappointed because I have a thing for James Dean.
This movie wasn’t written well at all. It might be a little surprising because the screenplay has been written by Luke Davies of Lion (2016) fame. Then again, I didn’t think the screenplay for Lion was worth a nomination, either, so maybe that is just my taste. In any case, this felt like a too simplistic one-dimensional representation of James Dean. Even if the movie was from the perspective of photographer, Dennis Stock, there was a lot more than could have been incorporated. Maybe a moderate minimalism is Davies’ modus operandi but it did not work for Life.
Given the lukewarm story, there was only so much the actors could do with the lines. I’m not sure if Dane Dehaan was a good choice to play James Dean. He didn’t even look remotely similar to Dean and I’m not aware of the choices they had while casting for the lead role, but Dehaan won’t be my first choice. It felt like a really weak imitation. Robert Pattinson wasn’t bad, but it felt like he was on the outside looking in. He wasn’t Dennis but he was someone who knew Dennis, maybe even understood him, but no, he wasn’t him – not in this movie. However, I’m not sure Pattinson is to be blamed for this because his role was even worse written than James Dean. At times, it felt more like he was struggling with what he got and trying to battle it to deliver something.
After the first hour, I just got used to the standard of acting and script and I was curious about what was going on – that was why I watched it through to the end. It was as well because once the tired afternoon slowness passes off, there is some relief.
In the end, I decided, I was going to watch the movie again some day in future when the disappointment had waned and I was more open to watching it without expectations about delivering some James Dean complexity. I think if this story was told on its own – just an actor and a photographer – without the crutch of a name as legendary and heavy as “James Dean”, it would have been much better. There would have been scenes explaining why this story was going to be touching and there was going to be some heartbreak.
But as it stands, all there is in Life is a bleak emotional passivity and awkwardness and not in a way that does any justice to James Dean.