My Life Without Me (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/10/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 102 mins

Thoughtful, moving, character-based drama with strong performances from Sarah Polley and Mark Ruffalo.

My Life Without Me is the latest film from Isabel Coixet, a Spanish director making her English language debut (her previous films have included Things I Never Told You and Those Who Love). Produced by Pedro Almodovar, this is her most assured film to date, a thoughtful, moving drama with excellent performances and an impressive script.

Sarah Polley (Go, The Sweet Hereafter) plays Ann, a 23 year old wife and mother of two children, who works as a cleaner at a university and lives in a trailer behind her mother’s house on the outskirts of Vancouver.

Three Months To Live

Though she has a frustrating relationship with her mother (Deborah Harry), she’s devoted to her husband Don (Scott Speedman) and their two children. However, when a routine visit to the doctor reveals that she only has three months to live, she decides not to burden her family with the news and instead writes herself a list of ‘Things To Do Before I Die’.

In addition to things such as recording birthday messages for her children up until their eighteenth birthdays, Ann’s list also includes ‘Find a new wife for Don’ and ‘Sleep with other men, just to see what it’s like’ as well as ‘Make someone fall in love with me’. To that end she begins a relationship with Lee (Mark Ruffalo), after a romantic encounter in the laundromat…

Essentially, this is an indie version of the God-awful Michael Keaton movie My Life (in which Keaton videotapes messages for his unborn son when he learns he has cancer), only stripped of the usual Hollywood sentimentality and mawkishness.

Compelling And Excellent

Sarah Polley is exceptional in the lead and her performance highlights Ann’s impressively strong character (there’s no breakdown scene, for example). Her quiet decision to get on with her life and live it as best she can is what makes the film so compelling – at first you think there will be a series of tearful confrontations; instead Coixet makes some surprising choices and the final scenes are both uplifting and unusual.

The supporting cast are excellent too, particularly Mark “He’s ‘The New Marlon Brando’, you know” Ruffalo, who has spoken openly about his own experience of life-threatening illness. Similarly, Scott Speedman redeems himself for his empty prettyboy performances in recent films such as Dark Blue and Underworld – his performance as Don is both warm and yet also subtle enough for us to understand just why Ann needs to experience other men.

In addition, there’s good work from Deborah Harry (who tells the children unsuitable bedtime stories gleaned from Joan Crawford movies), Alfred Molina (as Ann’s jailbird father), Leonor Watling (as their attractive new neighbour, also called Ann), Maria de Mediros (as Ann’s weirdo hairdresser) and Amanda Plummer as Laurie, her compulsive-eating co-worker.

Coixet and her cinematographer Jean Claude Larrieu perfectly capture the rainy atmosphere of Vancouver, to the point where you almost feel rained on yourself and some of the images are both beautiful and memorable - for example, Polley quietly standing barefoot in a torrential rainstorm. The film is packed full of similar moments that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.

To sum up, My Life Without Me is an impressively acted, uplifting, thoughtful film that transcends its seemingly depressing subject matter. Highly recommended.

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My Life Without Me (15)
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Content updated: 22/10/2017 12:50

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