MY LIFE WITHOUT ME

 Directed by Isabel Coixet. 2003.


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Based on a story by Nanci Kinkaid from the book Pretending the Bed is a Raft, Isabel Coixet's My Life Without Me is another in the mold of recent films that sidesteps issues of values in their attempt to be trendy and cool. Rescued from obscurity by Pedro Almodovar who secured Sony Classics as its distributor, the film is about a young working-class mother of two who discovers that she has only two months to live and, contrary to the book's intentions, decides to withhold the information from her family. Her method of achieving completion is to make a to-do list before her time runs out. The list includes getting her hair and nails done, making tape recordings for her daughters for every birthday until age eighteen, and having sex with another man despite the fact that she has a loving and devoted husband. 

Ann (Sarah Polley) lives in a trailer park with her often unemployed husband Don (Scott Speedman) and daughters Penny and Polly and works at night cleaning rooms at a local university she could never afford to attend. She has to contend with her well-meaning but preachy mother played by Deborah Harry and her estrangement from her father (Alfred Molina) who is serving a long prison term.  Believing she is pregnant, she goes for a routine physical and is told that she has terminal cancer by a shy doctor who cannot look her in the eye. To spare them the trauma of doctors, hospitals, and waiting rooms, she opts not to tell friends and family, pretending that she has anemia. Her attempts at subterfuge are aided by the film's indulgent fantasy that one can endure cancer without any change in appearance or acute physical symptoms. 

Slowly Ann begins to fulfill the items on her list. As a kind gesture, she invites a co-worker Laurie (Amanda Plummer) who worries about her weight over for dinner and helps her timid doctor to better comfort people facing bad news about their illness. She soon finds Lee (Mark Ruffalo), a new lover at the local Laundromat, but instead of a one night stand, she allows him to fall in love with her and endure heartbreak. The script neatly allows Don's future wife, conveniently also named Ann (Leonor Watling), to move next door and eventually ties up all the loose ends like a Christmas package. My Life Without Me says little about the dying process and gives no consideration to spiritual themes or to granting loved ones a chance to say goodbye. The only thing that saves the film is a charming and natural performance by Sarah Polley that allows her character the dignity denied by the script. 

Howard Schumann
 
 
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