My Life Without Me

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Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts

Starring: Sarah Polley, Scott Speedman, Deborah Harry, Mark Ruffalo, Leonor Watling

Director: Isabel Coixet

Oh no, young girl has only months to live, yawn, haven’t we seen this a few times before? AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, SWEET NOVEMBER, endless US teen flicks? But at last, a weepy that manages to avoid the oh so common pitfalls of this tragi-genre.

The result of this Canadian and Spanish co-production (it’s produced by Pedro Almodovar and his company el Deseo in their first English language production) brings us a refreshing take on a cliched topic.

Anne is diagnosed with ovarian cancer which has spread to her liver at 23 years of age. She has 2 to 3 months left to live. She chooses to keep this information completely to herself because she doesn’t want her loved ones to suffer endless trips to hospital in vain. Instead she records tape messages for her 2 young daughters Patsy and Penny, her husband Don (Scott Speedman), who she has been with since high school, and others central to her life.

She calmly sits down and makes a list of ‘things to do before I die’ which includes getting her hair and nails done, finding a suitable new wife and mother for her young family, and sleeping with another man.

Coixet’s creative and resourceful direction never allows self-pity or sentiment to creep in and, crucially, there is never a death scene, only remembrances after the event, handled beautifully in a closing montage. Even at this one moment when you think the film will finally fall into a cliched trap it stylishly and easily staves it off.

Deborah Harry gives a great performance as Anne’s bitter and downtrodden mother in a role which marks a bit of a departure for the eternal glamour puss – can you imagine Blondie slaving away in a dead-end bakery and not getting any dates?

Man of the moment Mark Ruffalo pops up as Lee, the “other man” that Anne sleeps with. And whilst Speedman is never required to show much skill in his role as Don, this film belongs to Sarah Polley, who puts in an utterly mesmerising performance to create in Anne a strong, noble central character without an ounce of self-pity.

Depressing though this may sound as a pitch, this is a truly inspiring film that manages to leave you positive instead of depressed.

5 out of 6 stars