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Awesome: 17.65%
Worth A Look: 35.29%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 5.88%

2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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My Life Without Me
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Stephen Groenewegen

"Life sucks and then you die"
3 stars

The Canadian-Spanish feature My Life Without Me is about a 23 year-old mother learning she has two months left to live.

Ann (Sarah Polley) works as a night janitor and lives in a trailer parked in the backyard of her misanthropic mother (Deborah Harry). She married her high school sweetheart (Scott Speedman) and gave birth to the first of two kids at age 17. Don dotes on her and his young daughters and is a warm-hearted optimist. He’s forever out of work, unsurprisingly, since he builds swimming pools and it’s the middle of winter in Vancouver.

One morning, Ann faints at home. The bewildered hospital doctor (Julian Richings) informs her she has a tumour in both ovaries and that the cancer has already spread too far and too fast for them to operate. Ann decides not to tell her family or friends and sits down to plan 10 things to do before she dies. Items on the list include having a manicure, adultery, taping birthday messages for her kids for every year until they’re 18 and finding Don a new wife for when she’s dead.

Almodovar’s company, El Deseo, produced My Life Without Me, the first English language film from Spanish writer-director Isabel Coixet. She loosely adapted a short story (“Pretending the Bed is a Raft”) by Nancy Kincaid, transferring the action from New Orleans, adding characters and changing names. She also made a critical alteration to the original’s plot - having Ann keep her death secret is Coixet’s invention.

It’s a leap to imagine anyone being able - let alone wanting - to hide something as important as this from the ones they love. It’s a cheap device that alienated me from the only sympathetic character in last year’s Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. Coixet does better here, partly because of her economic storytelling style but thanks mainly to Sarah Polley. Her performance is dogged and consistent rather than powerful or especially memorable. But she avoids making Ann a martyr, resorting to histrionics or mugging for sympathy, any of which would have turned me right off. There’s a slow spreading charm in Polley’s sad-eyed persistence. Once you adjust to Ann’s bizarre decision, it’s hard not to admire her determination in accomplishing everything on her list.

The film boasts a gallery of quirky supporting characters. At best, they lend colour; at worst, these one or two scene vignettes make the film seem like an opened-out theatre piece. Maria de Medeiros has fun as a silly hairdresser infatuated with fraudulent 1980s pop stars Milli Vanilli, Alfred Molina is in subdued mode as Ann’s jailbird father and there’s a little too much of Amanda Plummer playing Ann’s diet-obsessed best friend. Deborah Harry is comically dour as Ann’s mum, who takes Joan Crawford’s self-sacrificing mother in Mildred Pierce as her role model. Mark Ruffalo’s twitchiness is just right for the lovelorn man who falls desperately in love with Ann, though he’s too rugged to convince as a bookworm.

Watching My Life Without Me is enervating. Coixet is so determined not to indulge the story’s potential for sentiment that she overcompensates on the dreariness. We’re presented with a world of endless rain and drab skies, presumably to remind us that these are downtrodden poor people with little happiness in their lives. Ann does some wonderful things for herself and other people, but any attempt at uplift is smothered by the grim aesthetic. Cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu doesn’t help matters by jostling the camera about and lunging in for unflattering close-ups on the actors’ faces.

Sure, this is a film about death, but it’s also about Ann waking from a dreamlike existence and learning to LIVE. Sometimes tender, occasionally beguiling, too often My Life Without Me settles for morose.

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originally posted: 07/12/04 13:01:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/14/07 Jenni It was okay. This film makes you feel bad, so if that's what you want - thereyago 3 stars
8/28/04 Tristynn Loved this one. Sarah Polley is an amazing actor. I cried my eyes out at the end. 5 stars
8/06/04 ELI My mom said it was the stupidest movie she had ever seen :) 1 stars
5/21/04 Gretchen Ross This movie made me cry and want to go out and live my life to the fullest 5 stars
3/13/04 Elena Poignant and straightforward, this film accentuates the beauty of life's simplicity 5 stars
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  26-Sep-2003 (R)
  DVD: 24-Feb-2004


  15-Jul-2004 (M)

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