Review Round-Up: Roger Ebert's Life Itself: "The best thing Mr. Ebert has ever written"

by Maggie Lange
September 23, 2011 8:27 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood
Roger Ebert, the owner of arguably the most powerful thumbs in America, has published a memoir documenting his 69 years. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the only film critic to garner a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Ebert writes in Life Itself how he helped to change the way movies were reviewed. Especially in light of his recent struggles with cancer, film and book critics alike are lauding Ebert's introspective portrayal of his past, with some saying that Life Itself is the best writing the Ebert has ever penned. Read the reviews below.

Janet Maslin, The New York Times

[A] candid, funny and kaleidoscopic new memoir. This is the best thing Mr. Ebert has ever written… The book sparkles with his new, improvisatory, written version of dinner-party conversation… Life Itself is the best possible antidote to his experience of loss. It communicates a whole lot of gusto and very little grief. Its globe-trotting, indefatigable author comes across as the life of a lifelong party. “I may seem tragic to you, but I seem fortunate to myself,” he writes. “Don’t lose any sleep over me.”

John Powers, NPR

You can divide famous people into two broad categories. Those who find fame a burden and those who take it like a tonic. Roger Ebert is one of the latter. That rarest of creatures — a film critic everyone knows — he really enjoys being Roger Ebert. This pleasure comes through in his new memoir, Life Itself… Roger has never been one of those critics you read for his analysis. He's a critic you read for his openness and enthusiasm. Because of that enthusiasm, you might almost say that he's the original fanboy — breezy, personal and ready to share.

Gerald Bartell, The Washington Post

Ebert’s memoir, Life Itself resembles one of those movie marathons. Tales from childhood, interviews with film stars and directors, funny and touching stories about colleagues, and evocative essays about trips unspool before the reader in a series of loosely organized, often beautifully written essays crafted by a witty, clear-eyed yet romantic raconteur.

Maureen Dowd, The New York Times (Second Review)

Ebert is now a first-rate second-rate memoirist… The effervescent Ebert doesn’t realize, though, that for an autobiography, he doesn’t need to include the names of every childhood friend, parish priest, funeral attendee, and even his phone number when he was a boy. It takes him a third of the book to finish with school days. But he’s so happy to be exploring his senses, and expressing himself in one of the few ways he has left, that it’s hard not to be swept up in his enthusiasms…Aside from the repetitive rambling back and forth in time, Ebert is exceptionally good company. Like Christopher Hitchens and Kirk Douglas, he works prodigiously and narrates his Job-like woes with a surprisingly chipper voice.

Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly

Life Itself is a casual ramble through his life, something akin to the long walks through London and other cities that he describes in some of its loveliest passages. He proves to be an excellent tour guide as he ambles through his working-class Illinois childhood, his early days in the hard-boiled newspaper world, his wild collaborations with director Russ Meyer, and his often contentious partnership with Gene Siskel. A-.

Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today

Roger Ebert has always been a man of many words. Insightful ones. Sincere ones. Often quite sublime ones. Some have even been known to sting, as those slammed in one of his negative movie reviews can attest — that means you, Transformers: Dark of the Moon director Michael Bay, and your "gigantic and hideous robots."

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