Dan Fogelman Blames Film Criticism "Group Speak" for Poor 'Life Itself' Reviews

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Dan Fogelman

"There's a disconnect between something that is happening between our primarily white male critics who don't like anything that has any emotion," the writer-director said in an interview.

Life Itself currently has an 11 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes — and according to its writer-director, that's because a vocal, powerful minority of film critics are allergic to emotional fare.

Responding to the film's poor reviews in an interview on TooFab.com published Wednesday, Dan Fogelman said that there is a "disconnect" between the critical and audience response to the film, which follows a New York couple from the inception of their romance through the birth of their first child, and the effect it has on other lives.

"I think that something is inherently a little bit broken in our film criticism right now," Fogelman said. "I also think it's somewhat broken in our television criticism, I think that the people with the widest reach are getting increasingly cynical and vitriolic and I think there are a couple of genres and a couple of ideas that they [attack, which] doesn't speak to not just a mainstream audience, but also a sophisticated audience."

Fogelman, who also is the creator of the hit NBC series This Is Us, added, "I think a couple of the early reviews that have come out about this movie feel so out of left field to everybody who's a part of this movie and to people who have been screening this film for the better part of a year now to both fancy filmmakers, critics and audiences."

The Rotten Tomatoes score was compiled from the reviews of 62 critics, 26 of them considered "Top Critics" on the site. Metacritic, which meted out a poor 21 score for the film, polled 24 reviews. In The Hollywood Reporter's review, critic David Rooney said the film "should come with a diabetic warning," writing that Life Itself manipulates its audiences with "aggressive heart-tugging" via frequent tragedies that befall its main characters.

Cinemascore, which gathers feedback on films from audiences, will be polling on the film on Friday, it announced on Facebook.

The writer-director subsequently brought up the paucity of diversity in film criticism to help explain the poor reviews as well: "There's a disconnect between something that is happening between our primarily white male critics who don't like anything that has any emotion. ... Something's happened with these 10 people who kind of speak in this 'group speak' and say [my work is] 'emotionally manipulative' every time they [see] anything where [my] characters go through anything."

A USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study published in June found that 77.8 percent of reviews of 2017's 100 highest-grossing movies were written by men, while 82 percent were written by white critics.

Still, not all those who disliked the film were white and male. "Imagine what, in steadier, not-deranged hands, this photo and this gorgeous twosome could’ve been," Hunter Harris wrote in New York Magazine.

The Los Angeles Times' Katie Walsh, NPR's Linda Holmes, Westword's April Wolfe and Time's Stephanie Zacharek also wrote less-than-enthusiastic reviews. "Life Itself ... is so perversely jaw-dropping in its attempts to extort feelings out of us that it could almost be a black comedy," Zacharek wrote.