I was a fan of Roger Ebert for about 15 years, read a few of his books (including his memoir) and followed his blog, so there isn’t much about him in Life Itself that I didn’t know already, apart from some very touching, candid scenes of him during the last four months of his life. But that’s okay.
The film isn’t groundbreaking in style or form, but it’s deeply meaningful for anyone like me who admired his work and fell in love with movies through his print and screen reviews. It also shows us in touching detail the relationship between him and his wife Chaz, who wasn’t as much a public figure until Ebert’s illness and death. This is as much a tribute to her as it is to him.
It’s certainly an affectionate film. It doesn’t shy away from his shortcomings — his ego, his clashes with Gene Siskel, his alcoholism — though I wouldn’t call it a warts-and-all portrait. I would have liked to see more detail about his politics and his more memorable clashes (like the Brown Bunny feud), his attempt to relaunch At the Movies, etc., but like I said, I’ve followed Ebert for years; I would have been happy to watch a 10-hour Ken Burns retrospective on him.
As a two-hour documentary, though, it’s a lovely tribute, and afterwards it should prompt anyone to seek out all the great writing Ebert left behind.