My Life Without Me (2003)
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Review Date: September 05, 2003
Director: Isabel Coixet
Writer: Isabel Coixet
Producers: Esther García, Gordon McLennan
Sarah Polley as Ann
Mark Ruffalo as Lee
Scott Speedman as Don
A 23-year old mom of two young kids, and wife of a nice guy deadbeat, finds out that she only has a couple of months to live, and decides not to tell anyone about it, but to cherish her last days on earth, write down a list of things that she wants to do before she dies and put together some tapes for her loved ones to listen to, after she's passed.
You obviously shouldn't be going into a film like MY LIFE WITHOUT ME, expecting to see Cameron Diaz strip down and ride a mechanical bull, but you should expect an empowering movie about a young woman's final days on this planet, and how she decides to take hold of her life, her dreams, her hopes unfulfilled and yes, even some of her own flighty selfish desires, in order to feel a little bit more complete and to leave a healthier imprint on her loved ones after she's gone. I absolutely loved the premise of this film and was very happy that they didn't turn it into an overly maudlin piece, like it easily could have been. Yes, the film includes a number of emotional scenes (I cried like a child), but it's not depressing per se, it's not dry or pretentious or self-important. It's sincere and it comes across as something very real, including many lighter moments, laughs and surprising to ending that wasn't so devastating (I remember bawling like an infant during the final 10 minutes of DEAD MAN WALKING, but this film wasn't like that) Much of the credit for this film's success should go to Isabel Coixet, the writer and director of the piece, and someone who knows enough not to drown us in her characters' self-pity or depressive states. The film also sparks fantastical in a couple of scenes, romantic in others (loved the Italian songs) as well as quirky (the Milli Vanilli obsessed hairdresser or the co-worker with the unhealthy desire to get skinnier) But much like many of the greater dramatic movies out there, a screenplay is sometimes only as good as its players and in the case of this film, about top-notch acting across the board.

Scott Speedman?! Wow...who knew that he could act so well? Color me impressed (especially after his half-assed performance in DARK BLUE) This guy really gave his character a wonderful feel, a sense of niceness and inner joy. In fact, I'm still not entirely sure why his wife didn't seem to love him any more than she did actually...I'd even marry this guy! Mark Ruffalo also continued to hit balls out of the park with yet another solid performance, this one drenched with a tinge of self-doubt and love-struck anxiety. Even secondary characters like Debbie Harry were right-on, as the cynical mom still living in the past, and the new neighbor, played by Leonor Watling, who delivered a passionate speech about one memorable event at the hospital that broke my heart. Must be that time of the month for me. Now while all that is fine and dandy, the truth is that the butter that spread itself over this piece of bread with the greatest panache was the lead played superbly by Sarah Polley, an actress who has been bucking the "Hollywood system" of late in order to be involved in more substantial projects, and if these are the kinds of pictures that she wants to go after...more power to her (although it's always nice to balance it off with stuff like GO). As the centerpiece, the most crucial part of this story, Polley came across as a strong, yet sensitive, woman-child, who never really had the chance to do all the things most "regular girls" her age were doing. In various scenes, she managed to portray the vast gamut of emotions that you would expect from someone in her position and had me "gulping up" on more than one occasion. I was a little surprised by how little the film's ending tugged at me emotionally, but I think that was the filmmaker's choice. Overall, MY LIFE WITHOUT ME is definitely one of the better movies of the year, filled with great performances, introspection, emotional tangents, a deeper appreciation of the human spirit, and most vividly, a re-affirmation of the value of one's life.
(c) 2016 Berge Garabedian
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