The king of multi-generational sagas strikes again! This Is Us creator, Dan Fogelman, has become an expert in turning the life stories of ordinary people into epic sagas and told in a touching and philosophical way. Life Itself is just that — a melodrama with an international ensemble to boot.

Fogelman starts the film in an interesting way. Drunk, depressed and mentally unwell, Will Dempsey (Oscar Isaac) is working on his bizarre screenplay that is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. But Fogelman, using classic literary elements, chose to bring life to Will’s script not only to introduce the mental instability of Will but also to foreshadow the concept of an unreliable narrator.

The unreliable narrator, which is a recurring theme throughout the film, is pointed out by the more insightful characters. Especially by Will’s pregnant wife, Abby (Olivia Wilde), who argued passionately in her college thesis that the best example of an unreliable narrator is life itself.

And by life being unreliable, we mean unpredictable. Who can’t relate to that?

Fogelman chooses to break up the story into multiple chapters not because they are separate but because they are cumulative. In the first chapter, Fogelman constantly flashes back between when Will was well and happy with Abby. Only through flashbacks and therapy sessions with Will’s astute therapist, Dr. Cait Morris (Annette Benning) does the audience fill in the blanks on how our story’s possible hero ended up as he did, depressed and alone.

But little did The Dempseys know at the time that their love would have a ripple effect that would ricochet over continents and generations.

As he has done so many times with the hit NBC show This Is Us, Fogelman uses the time ellipsis technique to tell a story. Fogelman’s writing style is actually many little plots that evolve into one big story that tugs at the heartstrings of audiences and oftentimes leads them to a good cathartic cry. One could argue that he almost tries too hard to make us cry in Life Itself. But if you don’t cry at least a little bit, you may not be human.

To maximize Fogelman’s first time stepping up to the plate to direct his own screenplays, all his ensemble actors are in exquisite form. Isaac shines as Will and is complemented by a sensational Wilde. Will loves Abby like Pip loves Stella in Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations, desperately. Abby is brilliantly passionate, and Wilde steps into this role with full force to bring life to this zealous character. We get to see them at the height of their love and their lowest points, which is no easy feat for any actor.

In fact, all the characters were well-casted, and even the younger actors favored the older characters they were portraying. Benning’s appearance in the film, however, was not much more than a cameo.

What’s more, Fogelman’s stories are relatable as they revolve around the same theme — the ups and downs of Life Itself. Most stories contain a hero, a villain, and a narrator.  Fogelman’s stories are no different. However, the way he forces the audience to care for the characters, like a maestro conducting an orchestra, with profound, vivid exposition is the mitigating factor that takes his storytelling to the next level.

One could argue that Fogelman tries too hard to force emotions on the audience with Life Itself. But the relevance of the story makes the material so relatable that viewers can’t help but be heartened by the cathartic, yet somewhat predictable, climax of this poignant film.