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My Life Without Me
2003 - R - 106 Mins.
Director: Isabelle Coixet
Producer: Gordon McLennan, Ogden Gavanski, Esther Garcia
Written By: Isabelle Coixet
Starring: Sarah Polley, Mark Ruffalo, Maria De Medeiros, Jessica Amlee, Kenya Jo Kennedy, Leonor Watling
Review by: Greg Ursic
   
Pregnant and married right out of high school, Anne, now 23, lives in a trailer in her mother’s backyard with her sometimes employed husband and two daughters. A routine trip to the doctor leads to the discovery that she has inoperable ovarian cancer and only a matter of weeks to live. The news provides her with an epiphany - while her life up to this point has not exactly been a rose garden, she always been a passive spectator. She makes a decision to keep the news to herself and composes a must-do list which runs the gamut from getting false nails to getting to know another man.

A typical Hollywood film dealing with this subject matter – think Terms of Endearment or Steel Magnolias– would focus on ghastly pale heroines imprisoned in sterile hospital cubicles where they’re attached to myriad machines and surrounded by somber looking relatives waiting for the final breath. Isablele Coixet, the writer-director of “My Life Without Me” chose to craft a story whose protagonist experiences a rebirth and decides to celebrate life rather than becoming consumed by the inevitable.

In the aftermath of “Go” – the “Pulp Fiction” for the teen set - Sarah Polley was offered bushels of scripts and bundles of cash to become part of the Hollywood mundane movie machine. She chose instead to return to Canada to work on films that she really wants to do and has become a fixture in the indie circuit (she had three movies at the 2003 Vancouver International Film Festival). In the post screening Q&A for the film, she noted that in spite of the story or perhaps because of it, it was the most upbeat set that she’s ever worked on.

Polley brings a unique perspective to Anne, having lost her mother to cancer at the age of 11 and it is reflected in her performance: Anne’s resolute upbeat persona is infectious and the audience is able to connect with the character and participate in her discoveries. This extends to the requisite “sad scenes” (it is film about life and death after all) where Polley eschews melodrama without appearing cold, ultimately lending the moments a special poignancy. Polley and Scott Speedman (the Underworld uberhunk) adequately convey near connubial bliss, but it is obvious that they have settled into a comfortable routine that borders on apathy, and sadly neither is aware of it. It is the relationship between Anne and Lee (Mark Ruffalo) however that provide the film’s vibrancy.

Just as Anne draws Lee out of his "Aw shucks" solitary funk he in turn provides her with the intellectual and emotional stimulation that she craves. The duo's natural repartee results in a palpable bond between them that allows for an unspoiled flow and often leaves the viewer feeling like a voyeur. Coixet avoids placing the affair within any moralistic context as it is more than a sordid tryst, and any whiff of base lust would detract from the characters' genuine emotional, almost spiritual connection.

My Life Without Me is an uplifting treatment of a painful subject. The weak links in the piece, notably Deborah Harry's lifeless performance as Anne's mother and a far fetched coincidence near the end, are not enough to derail the film's powerful message and stellar performances. The closing comment in the Q&A was from a tearful audience member clearly moved by the film who praised the director for her treatment of the subject matter and thanked Polley for the sincerity, beauty (inner) and life affirming qualities that she brought to the character. Dare I say, a must see film.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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