Life directed by Anton Crobijn has been given mixed reviews – both positive and negative. While some critics are saying it’s a humdrum film with dull performances that leave viewers frustrated, others are saying it’s charming, beautifully written and directed, and that the acting is excellent.
Personally, I back the positive reviews.
The problem with all of the negative critiques is that they’re simply expecting too much. When you throw the name James Dean around, everyone is going to expect the best just because he was arguably one of the best. Now, I’m not saying this film doesn’t live up to Dean’s legacy, but it’s not exactly the biopic that I believe critics were hoping for and here’s why I think they’re struggling.
It’s a simple plot; Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) is a photographer who is fed up with his job. It’s become dull and he’s tired of snapping mundane photos of spoiled Hollywood actors. Stock stumbles across Dean (Dane Dehan) at a party and Dean seems to immediately take a liking to Stock. After some small talk, Dean invites Stock to the preview of the new Elia Kazan film in which he stars in, the classic ‘East of Eden’.
From this moment on, Stock believes he’s discovered something new. No more boring photos of actors on the red carpet or on set. Stock sees something intriguing and exciting in Dean: He has charm, he’s rebellious, and he’s shy. Most importantly, Dean is modest and isn’t in it for the fame, he’s in the business because he believes it’s an art form. Stock believes that James Dean is the voice of a generation, and he’ll do whatever he can to show the world the brilliance of Dean.
From there, the story expands and leads us to the birth of one of the most iconic photographs in history. You know, the one that’s plastered over every college dorm room? Yeah, the one of Dean wrapped in a black pea coat, cigarette dangling out of his mouth as he struts down a cold and rainy New York Times Square.
Not only did I find the plot unique and alluring, I was also captivated by Dehan’s performance as Dean. This is an American icon, and there is certainly going to be a lot of pressure to pull off that role, but Dehan’s portrayal is the kind of performance that makes you feel close to the teen idol. Overall, his performance makes you truly sad to know that Dean is no longer with us. It’s a performance that is genuine, kind, and most importantly, it’s believable.
Let me end with saying that I couldn’t be happier that the film didn’t dive into the death of Dean. We all know the story: it’s been told far too many times. We haven’t been told the story behind the birth of one of the most iconic photographs and that’s maybe why critics are struggling because they were expecting the same mundane story of another fallen icon.
Life screens at UICA from January 8—21, get a complete list of showtimes at uica.org/life.
Interested in participating in UICA's movie reviews? Contact Nick Hartman at firstname.lastname@example.org.