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MY LIFE WITHOUT ME (article first published : 2004-02-13)

Previewed at last year's Durban International Film Festival, My Life Without Me is never the third-rate tearjerker its subject matter and trailer might suggest, but it's not the greatest of movies either.

Written and directed by Isabel Coixet, it's a slow, simplistic and sometimes strangely unaffecting drama focused on a hard-done-by, 23-year-old Canadian called Ann, played by the suitably pale and lethargic Sarah Polley, now-adult child star of TV's Road To Avonlea.

A battler who holds down a night job as a college campus janitor, Ann lives on property owned by her baker mother (Deborah Harry), sharing a tiny trailer in the back yard with her unemployed husband, Dan (watchable Scott Speedman), and two young daughters.

One day, after a medical check-up following a blackout, Ann learns she has terminal cancer and only a few months to live.

She then rather selfishly decides she will say nothing of her death sentence and sets out to put into practise a list of 10 things she wants to do before she dies. These tasks include telling her daughters daily how much she loves them, seeing her father who has spent a decade in jail, recording messages for her girls for every birthday until their 18th and having her hair and nails done.

And she makes it a priority to try to find a suitable replacement wife for Dan.

Also, rather inexplicably, since she has a near-perfect, hunky husband who idolises her, Ann decides she wants to see what it is like to have an affair, the chap she chooses being shy and awkward Lee (Mark Ruffalo), whom she meets in a laundromat and who falls heavily for her.

The main problem with this unusual drama is that one finds it hard to sympathise with Ann. One admires her courage and tenacity, but finds most of her actions strange and rather cruel towards all affected by them.

However, there is no denying Polley, also seen in The Sweet Hereafter, turns in a fine performance, the best in a cast that includes Amanda Plummer as Ann's weight-obsessed co-worker, Leonor Watling as a neighbour and paediatric nurse and an uncredited Alfred Molina as Ann's imprisoned father.

Both sad and hopeful, with some stylistic directorial flourishes, My Life Without Me is inspired by the story Pretending the Bed Is a Raft, by Nanci Kincaid. The film gets a rating of 7/10. - Billy Suter




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