My Life Without Me

Directed by Isabel Coixet

> > Mar 2004

My Life Without Me - Directed by Isabel Coixet
By Michael BarclayThe problem with most melodrama is that when given the glossy Hollywood treatment, it always feels like cheap manipulation rather than genuine emotion. While there's no question that My Life Without Me is a no-holds-barred tear-jerker about a 23-year old mother of two (Sarah Polley) who discovers she has two months to live what makes this Spanish/Canadian co-production so affecting is how gritty it is. Everybody in this movie looks like shit by conventional standards, with practically no movie make-up and crumbs of food left conspicuously on their lips. The film's four leads Polley, Deborah Harry (yes, Blondie) as Polley's permanently embittered mother, Scott Speedman as the husband (from the highly underrated Kitchen Party) and Mark Ruffalo as the lover (You Can Count On Me) all give incredible performances and, ironically, have never looked better. Polley handles her extremely challenging role with ease and restraint, never once indulging in showy acting to milk tears from the audience. Sadly, some of the supporting characters are grossly underwritten and unpleasant distractions, especially Pulp Fiction refugees Amanda Plummer and Maria DeMedeiros the former as Polley's diet-obsessed co-worker, the latter as a Milli Vanilli-obsessed hairdresser. The bleak Vancouver rain-scape offers a bit too much pathetic fallacy at times, while the voice-over, flashbacks and fantasy sequences are completely incongruous with the unblinking realism achieved by writer/director Isabel Coixet. Perhaps if a lesser actor than Polley had been cast, those bells and whistles would have been necessary. But if a lesser actor than Polley had been cast, there's no way this movie would work at all; its success relies entirely on how strongly we react to this woman's plight and her determination to live life to its fullest before she dies. Tragedy and melodrama are rarely this uplifting, but in Polley's hands, anything seems possible. Plus: none. (Alliance Atlantis)
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