My Life Without Me (2003) / Drama-Romance
aka Mi Vida Sin Mi
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Sarah Polley, Mark Ruffalo, Scott Speedman, Deborah Harry, Amanda Plummer, Leonor Watling, Julian Richings, Maria de Madeiros, Jessica Amlee, Kenya Jo Kennedy, Alfred Molina
Director: Isabel Coixet
Screenplay: Isabel Coixet
Imagine if you were told that you had only two or three months to live, because you were dying of a rapidly debilitating disease. After the initial horror of the news, what would you do? My Life Without Me seeks to answer that question in the character of Ann (Sarah Polley, Go), a lower class 23-year-old wife and mother of two. She has only ever been with one man, her husband, Don (Scott Speedman, Dark Blue). She has never seen the world. When she receives news that she has ovarian cancer, which has spread into her internal organs, and is inoperable, she sets about writing a list. This list is a guideline as to what she is to do with her remaining time before she passes away.
I won't go into great detail regarding the list, except to mention a few key things. Ann makes a decision to not tell any of her family or friends that she is dying, explaining her weak spells as anemia, for which she has already sought medical assistance. She also decides to enter into a romantic relationship with a man she runs into at a laundromat, getting him to fall in love with her. She makes tapes for her husband, mother, and daughters to listen to when she passes away, filled with such topics as to why she never told anyone she was dying, and to with them happy birthday and the like.
At this point, I need to mention that the things Ann chose to do with her remaining days are a bit disturbing to me, and don't really endorse them as acceptable behavior. I apologize for bringing morality into my review, but since these feelings were things that occupied a great deal of my time while watching the movie, I think you ought to know. Although Ann isn't wealthy, hasn't seen much of the world, and has only slept with one man in her young life, she seems to be quite fortunate -- much more so than many people facing similar situations, whether they are dying of cancer, AIDS, or any other terminal diseases. By all appearances, her husband is the kind of man most women would probably dream of -- handsome, loving, and willing to do his part to help her whenever possible. Out of all of the things that Ann decides to follow through on, cheating on him is the one she pursues with the most vigor. One could almost accept this selfish behavior as within reason, except she gets another man to love her, knowing that she cannot ever really continue in the relationship long, and he will be dealt severe emotional pain by her passing. In my opinion, it's despicable behavior.
Now, you may ask yourself why, given my strong objections to the fundamental premise of the movie, I should still deem it a good film. After some internal struggle, I have come to the conclusion that movies don't have to meet my moral or ethical standards in order to be quality work. I find murder reprehensible, and yet I have enjoyed movies where the main character is a killer (Psycho for instance). Truth is, I actually think My Life Without Me is a pretty good movie, with a good ensemble of actors, an interesting storyline, and quality direction by director Isabel Coixet, who also adapted the screenplay from the Nanci Kincaid novel, "Pretending the Bed is a Raft".
Even divorcing my moral grumblings, there are a few things I didn't like, including the tendency to get cute with some of the characters, such as the hairdresser who is obsessed with Milli Vanilli, the waitress who wants to look like Cher, or the coworker who keeps whining constantly about her inability to successfully diet. I realize it all fits in with the main theme that none if us really get to live the life we all dream of, but there could have been better ways to go about these things without getting ridiculous with it.
And yet, Sarah Polley's performance commands attention (she reminds me of a young Julianne Moore), and carries the movie from a routine tearjerker into something more substantive. Sure, the last weeks of her life aren't anything I would ever dream of doing if I were in her situation, but she is young, naive and honestly, not all that wise to begin with. We all do some pretty stupid things in our youth, so to expect the wisdom of a sage from her may be a bit naive on our own part.
My Life Without Me, even when it makes a misstep, is always interesting. It's a sad movie, as you might expect, but it does offer up good food for thought. If anything, it is stimulating enough to generate self-reflection for hours, or perhaps days, after seeing it. How many movies can you say do that? As absurd as it is at times, Coixet's work is intriguing, Polley's acting arresting, and the drama itself compelling. Flawed in many ways, but still quite good when it has to be.
©2004 Vince Leo