Daniel PG Simpson’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is a film that I wanted to think on a little bit before reviewing, as my thoughts were pretty muddled while watching it. However all that time has revealed to me is that I stand by my gut instinct; I really don't like Life is Beautiful. The film is a comedy-drama which sees Jewish-Italian Guido and his son sent to a Nazi concentration camp, where Guido uses his comedy and light spirit to try and protect his son's innocence. Essentially, he is trying to use comedy as a weapon against the horrors of the Holocaust. This is an interesting idea, but one that requires a very delicate and skillful touch that this film doesn't have. Actually, it takes a while for the Holocaust material to manifest. The first half focuses on Guido's efforts to woo the woman who will become his wife. This section of the film's sentimentality and sense of humour did not work for me at all. I found Roberto Benigni's performance as Guido to be particularly annoying. He's just a very over the top and cartoony figure who I find extremely grating. I'm sure he was inspired by the comedy actors of the silent era like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but he just doesn't have their spark and in truth I don't know if such a style works in modern day filmmaking.
I'm not fond of the first half, but a lot of that is a result of taste and I probably wouldn't have been so harsh on the film had it remained a sentimental love story, but the second half sees Guido and his son faced with the horrors of a concentration camp. I get that the comedy is supposed to be meant less for laughs and more as a means of preserving humanity in the face of evil, but I found it to highly offensive. Seeing Guido jump around like a clown or complain about heavy the anvils he's forced to carry are amidst the background of genuine human tragedy and the horror's of mankind struck me as being in very poor taste and I felt myself tangibly uncomfortable through the entire second half. Part of the problem is that the comedy style is quite broad. Had the humour came off as subtle and minimal I could have got behind it, but instead it mostly consists of Guido being loud and obnoxious. The film also has a pretty light tone, in spite of the subject matter, and the end result has the holocaust portrayed as an absurd joke. The whole thing just made me feel uncomfortable, and not in a way that was intended.
I get the arguments for this film. That it is a fable and is not meant to be taken literarily, but as an ode to the human spirit and its efforts to fight evil anyway it can. That's all well and good but the actual execution is not endearing and inspiring, but offensive and sickening. I'll give the film credit for the production, score, cinematography, and because I do think Benigni had his heart in the right place. But I also can't deny how wrong this made me feel. I'm usually not one to say there are some things you don't joke about, but in this case it's an accurate statement.