MY LIFE WITHOUT
"My Life Without Me" was a film I was anxiously looking forward to, not only because I'm basically in love with Sarah Polley, but because she is a hell of an actress. This is a beautiful portrait and character study of life and death, and is pleasantly heavy with symbolism. It also observes one persons attempt at achieving personal goals she never could do, or have the guts to do in their life. Polley plays Ann, a workaday woman who is a janitor for a school and goes home to her trailer with her husband and two daughters living a mostly simple life with her overbearing mom and life she's pretty comfortable with. One day during work she starts getting sick and goes to the hospital where her doctor tells her she has an inoperable tumor and is slowly dying.
Somehow Ann seems prepared to face death and the concept of death here, and it doesn't take much time for her to accept her death and that her daughters may grow up without a mother, thus she begins to really live life while she begins dying. Polley's character undergoes a transformation within the arc of the story, and Polley successfully manages to convey her transformation with a seamless transition that is so smooth. She presents an air of desperation throughout the movie, firstly trying to accomplish personal triumphs that she couldn't do in her real life, and what's all the more better, her actions are realistic and her reaction is downplayed. What's odd is Ann doesn't seem very heartbroken, because you're never sure if she's really happy with her life. She's comfortable, but comfortable doesn't always mean happy.
She makes a list of tasks to perform before she finally dies including
getting fake nails, changing her hair, smoking and drinking as much as
possible, and having an affair with
Through Lee, Ann also attempts to complete one of her tasks on the list, make a man fall in love with her, since her character at the beginning is mostly plain and unconventional. Lee is different from Don, played by Speedman who is more of a charismatic but settled husband who cares a lot for Ann. Through Lee Ann manages express perhaps her inner desire to be with a man not like her husband and discovers another form of love and passion. Ann also manages to come to terms with the reality of not being in her own life as she uneasily makes peace with her own mother (Deborah Harry), and visits her jailed absentee father. Alfred Molina has a great surprise walk on role as Ann's father, and I have to admit, it was surprising to see him make an appearance here being one of my favorite actors. Their scene together is very touching and heartbreaking as her father attempts to make up for lost time by offering to make Ann's daughters sneakers.
There is an excellent cast of actors here who can actually act including
Ruffalo who I always like, as the mysterious literature lover who falls
deeply for Ann, and Speedman who pulls off the loving supporting husband
completely oblivious to Ann's feats, and of course Polley who is just
great here managing to take on the lead role with a lot of competence
and skill, and
There are some truly heartbreaking sequences in the film including when Ann is recording birthday messages for her daughter for every birthday until they're eighteen. It's a long but tear-jerking sequence that well displays Polley's acting skills. There is also a very symbolic bittersweet scene in which Ann is watching her family from behind a red-beaded curtain as they go about their business preparing dinner, it felt very symbolic of her looking from beyond the grave. When she's watching them, is she already dead, or dying when she's watching them go about their business? Lenor Watling gives a very good supporting role as neighbor Ann, a convenient coincidence they happened to have the same name since she begins to take a more active role in their life befriending Ann, and bonding with her children, almost as if she's a heaven sent replacement. All the while, in the end we're spared the melodramatic death scene and only watch the remaining characters go on with their life uneasily with secrets kept and questions left unanswered. It's a beautiful poetic climax.
We never got the sense Ann was really heartbroken about her impending death with the tumor, as well, she never seems really sick in the film, the writers don't go to any lengths to completely sell she's gravely sick. It's odd how she just goes into a state of acceptance so immediately which makes you wonder if there could have been two minutes set aside for tears. If I found out I was dying, I'd be in tears, just weeping like they took my juice box. But, come on, her reaction is unrealistic; she has a husband who adores her, and two beautiful daughters. Shed a tear girl. Come on. I also didn't buy some of the list of actions Ann created as her final moments before her death.
Things I'd do before I died: 1) Get laid, 2) Try to get published, 3) Contact my first love and confess, 4) Write letters to my family members, 5) Eat as much chocolate and food as I wanted, 6) Track down people that taunted me in school and beat them like my child, 7) Get laid, and in another case try to start a threesome. Tis true, this would be my list. But if I were in Ann's shoes, I'd spend as much time as possible with my children, confess my love to them, give them advice, play with them, and just enjoy life, but Ann's actions before she dies are horrible and godly despicable but somehow the writers looked like they were trying to make it look poetic.
She decides having an affair with another man would be one of her most desired actions, something odd seeing as how she looks happy with her husband, and which was never delivered well enough to make me buy it, and then accompanying the affair would be making a man fall in love with her, which is also a truly passive aggressive bitchy thing to do because not only is she breaking her husband's heart, and her kids, but she has to break the heart of someone who shouldn't even be involved in the situation. Not to mention telling someone what she really thinks which is not only not much of a feat, but she doesn't go with it. It would have been nice to see people react to her, but alas, it's never done. Most of the scenes here don't make a lot of sense and border on just plain weird for the sake of weird including the odd scene with Ann walking through the supermarket, and her weird relationship with her hairdresser who has an obsession with Milli Vanilli.
I didn't see the point in a lot of the character relationships here, including Ann's relationship with Lee which is not only hardly focused on, considering it's a major step in the evolution of her character. Also, Ruffalo doesn't have much of a role here with sporadic appearances throughout the story to intertwine with Ann, and he's never given character depth, nor is he shown a lot of consideration toward personality. Their relationship has the potential to be very important and major, but we never feel it, because for a film with such an emotionally heavy subject matter, it's a shame there's not a lot of consideration towards it. We're sad, but ultimately not sad enough to tears, so we're never sure what the writers are trying to pull off at the climax.
Despite some reservations with certain sequences, this is nonetheless a beautiful melancholy study of life, death, love and last wishes. Polley gives an outstanding performance as an everywoman, and Speedman and Ruffalo make due with their roles. Heartfelt dialogue and a heartbreaking climax make this a must-see.