November 6, 2003

My Life Without Me

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After seeing Isabel Coixet’s latest film, My Life Without Me, I’ve come up with an all new drinking game to play at O’Leary’s this Friday night. If you’ve ever wondered what you’d do if you had only two months left to live, take one drink. If you can’t hold a camcorder steady for more than five seconds, take another. Now, if you can remember any cheesy, trite, overtly melodramatic line you’ve ever heard on Days of Our Lives, throw away your shot glass, find a time machine, beam yourself back a few years and beat Isabel to the punch.

I’m not exaggerating. This film is that bad.

My Life Without Me is the story of Ann (Sarah Polley), twenty-three, who lives in a trailer with her husband Don (Scott Speedman) and their two young daughters. Just in case the audience doesn’t pity her enough at this point, Ann is diagnosed with uterine cancer and learns she has only two months to live. Determined to make the best of the time she has left, she compiles a list of goals to complete before she dies, which includes making tapes for her daughters and visiting her jailbird father, whom she hasn’t seen in several years.

If you’re wondering where you’ve seen this before, you either (a) recognize the unimaginative triteness in such a storyline, or (b) have at some point rented My Life, starring Batman’s own Michael Keaton. This story didn’t do wonders for Bruce Wayne’s career in 1993, and it certainly doesn’t gain a second wind in this half-hearted attempt to present the audience with realistic, passionate characters who will capture our hearts and send us all home with a new appreciation for being alive. Sure, the handheld camerawork is suitably realistic, shakily tracking the characters as if unsure of their next move. However, the film is too aware of itself as a dramatic piece of cinema. How many close-ups of Ann’s crying eyes and shots of empty hospital wards need to be squeezed into the reel to make the audience sufficiently sad? Don’t answer that, Ms. Coixet, it’s a hypothetic question.

Overall, the characters are stiff and emotionless. While this could be the fault of bad acting, I haven’t ruled out dialogue that any lonely, Sunset Beach-obsessed housewife could have written in her sleep. Despite the knowledge that she won’t make it through the winter, Polley’s character is simply overly heroic — even when initially told of her terminal illness, Ann responds too quickly, bantering with the doctor in dialogue that is unbelievably sharp and controlled for such a shocking situation. Where are the angry outbursts, the questions, the shaky, scared dialogue? Such mechanical parlance is mirrored throughout the remainder of the film in a plethora of melodramatic monologues, flat love scenes (“Kiss me before I scream”), and contrived narratives that make me wonder whether the actors had all been replaced by evil robots bent on destroying any hope I had left for modern cinema.

I’m not going to pad my review by saying that My Life Without Me made a valiant effort at capturing the spirit of humanity’s blah, blah, blah, because frankly, it didn’t. The only thing worse than sitting through the second reel of this film was the fact that I ran out of popcorn halfway through the story. And to tell the truth, I don’t even like popcorn.

Archived article by Laura Mergenthal