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The Bottom Shelf #91

01.18.2007

It's that time of year when colds get passed around and I need to break out my Super Mommy skills. Wiping noses, taking temperatures, holding the puke bucket within projectile range... all that fun stuff. This week's selections features some dilemmas that not every mommy has to go through, but that every mommy can sit and be grateful that they don't have to.

MY LIFE WITHOUT ME (2003)
Directed by: Isabel Coixet
Starring: Sarah Polley, Mark Ruffalo

-- click here to buy this DVD at Amazon.com --
-- click here to rent this movie at NetFlix.com --

As the mother of a 6 year old daughter, this movie really hit home for me. The concept of what I would do if given the information that I wouldn't live to see her turn 18 let alone see her next birthday is beyond me. Would there be anger? Fear? Would I break down in tears or go on a homicidal rampage? MY LIFE WITHOUT ME details what happens in the 2 months after a 23 year old mother of two young girls is told that she has an inoperable tumor.

Sarah Polley has always been a go-to girl when it comes to lending weight to a simple story. Rather than turn this into a complete sob-fest, through her doe-eyed gaze and pursed lips we get to understand what it's like to have lived a life less lived. She never got to travel, never finished high school and never did anything of any great importance. She was supposed to be the prime candidate for one of those lives that just motors along in an undisturbed pond. Rather than try and strangle the last of what life has to offer for herself, she makes a list of things that she wants to do before she dies, including stepping out on the husband that she shares a deep love for. While it might seem like a heartless endeavor of a desperate woman, it proves to be the defining point in her finally understanding who she was as a person.

The movie is sad, make no mistake about that. What movie about a dying mother wouldn't be? But it completely sidesteps all of the normal plotlines and tear-jerking moments that suffocate similar stories. Polley's character is selfless and yet reaches out for what she wants in a self-centered manner. There are scenes of pure whimsy, something that I can only imagine would be going on in the head of someone who possesses such devastating news. And while I feel as if I related to it on a deeper level than those people who are not mothers of young daughters, it is a story that everyone can gain a message from. What we see in people might only be 50%, but it's the not pressuring to learn the other half that will keep us all alive.

Favorite Scene:

The one in the grocery store, firstly because it reminds me of Polley in GO, one of the coolest movies ever and secondly because I'm a big enough dork to have actually danced around in a grocery store.

Favorite Line:

"Life is so much better than you think, my love. I know because you managed to fall in love with me even though you saw, what was it, you said 10%? Five maybe? Maybe if you'd seen it all, you wouldn't have liked me. Or you would have liked me in spite of everything. I guess we'll never know..."

Trivia Tidbit:

I feel the insane need to point this out, even though it's not supremely important. When Polley is talking with the doctor in the beginning of the movie and she says that her birthday is in December and that she's an Aquarius: she's wrong. Either she was born in January or February or she's a Capricorn or a Sagittarius. Take it from a January 27th Aquarian.

See if you liked:

ANGELA'S ASHES, MY LEFT FOOT, IN AMERICA

LOSING ISAIAH (1995)
Directed by: Stephen Gyllenhaal
Starring: Jessica Lange, Halle Berry

-- click here to buy this DVD at Amazon.com --
-- click here to rent this movie at NetFlix.com --

When this movie was first released, I wasn't yet a mother. Every emotion that I felt was from the perspective as a daughter, trying to imagine myself in a position where someone could come in and take away from me the only mother that I'd known. It was a frightening prospect, even just envisioning myself where I might have to be relocated, ripped from the only family that I'd known. Over ten years have passed since I first watched LOSING ISAIAH, and in that time I became a mother myself. The movie still resonated deeply with me, but on a whole new level.

Isaiah starts off in the movie as a three day old infant, cradled in the arms of his crack addicted mother played by Halle Berry. Not able to leave her bawling baby in the crack den while she goes looking for another hit, she stores him away in a cardboard box by a city dumpster. In the morning the infant is discovered by garbage men, taken to the hospital where he comes into contact with a kind hearted social worker played by Jessica Lange. In her line of work, Lange has seen all manners of children abused, neglected and abandoned. She latches onto Isaiah and eventually adopts him into her family, much to the confusion and consternation of her biological daughter and her oft neglected husband.

Berry's character cleans up and becomes one of the few who manage to beat the odds. When she discovers that the child she thought she'd left for dead is still alive and has been adopted out without her knowledge or consent, she goes to court to win him back. The movie isn't so much one that tells the tale of two women and what constitutes a mother as it tries harder to be a one that questions why we put the welfare of adults higher than that of children, despite all of our claims to the contrary. Neither woman is perfect in her own world and both are well-intentioned, but the movie points out one of the ugliest sides of being a mother: our hormonal drive to turn our children into tangible possessions. Most people are severely disappointed with the ending, as I've often heard it referred to as a "cop-out." My opinion is one of stark contrast. In the end, both women set aside their feelings of pride and possession and think towards the welfare of the child, something that they were supposedly claiming to be concerned about all along.

Favorite Scene:

For a movie with serious subject matter, it feels awful trite to pick a favorite scene. There are moments with a stronger sense of revelation than others and even ones that are light hearted. Most of the time, the best scenes were the ones that really wrenched my heart, making it seem wrong to quote them in a little alloted piece of article space.

Favorite Line:

"What's different about our hands, Isaiah?"
"Mine's littler."

Trivia Tidbit:

Director Stephen Gyllenhaal is the father to both Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

See if you liked:

THE JOY LUCK CLUB, ANTWONE FISHER, MONSTER'S BALL

As an added bonus of being a good mommy, I was gifted with the present that no one should be without. Severe flu symptoms and a 3 day stay bundled up on the couch, whining that I wanted my OWN mommy. And Halle Berry as a crack addict still looked better than me. Bitch.

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