Roger Ebert loved movies—except the ones he hated, hated, HATED. But even then he was (usually) honest, fair, and kind. He was a generous champion of films and filmmakers; he treated their triumphs like personal victories, their failures as intimately as if they were his own. Steve James’ richly satisfying, sensitive, stirring biography is many things, and all of them do him justice. Meticulous and moving, Life Itself is about the history of both cinema and criticism, about Roger’s illustrious career, his loving family, friends, and colleagues, his illness and death—tragic because it robbed us of a great writer, a great thinker, and a great man—and the memories he left behind, but most of all it is about life, his and ours, the life of movie lovers everywhere. Because life itself, that loaded two-word phrase, is what Roger really wrote about when he wrote about the movies.
The film has a (pleasantly) rambling, stream-of-consciousness flow to it, underscored by deeper and more serious currents. For anyone familiar with Roger’s writing, as well as anyone who loves film, the movie is a must-see. It is also surprisingly accessible to those utterly uninterested in film criticism, cutting to the human heart of all this history to tell a raw and riveting life story. The biography almost mimics Roger’s writing style, in which he combined his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema with an approachable, plainspoken prose that could be understood and enjoyed by anybody.