Lede: If you are feeling depressed, do not see this movie.
Lede: If you are feeling depressed, do see this movie.
Lede: I had heard that this movie was bad and had a first line all picked out: “It is a sad day for Spaniards and Blondie fans.” The line still applies, but the movie is not bad. It is a sad day for anyone who sees this movie. It is a sad movie.
The remarkable specificity of the cultural references in “My Life Without Me” seem to narrow its audience to those who know the fear of death that an unread copy of the gargantuan “Middlemarch” can inspire. But the most daring aspect of Isabel Coixet’s new film is its willingness to deal with the perennially abused topic of someone dying too young. Coixet uses a second-person voiceover and gets away with it. Her main character, Ann (Sarah Polley), contemplates death while rolling a cart through a supermarket fantasy full of people dancing and twirling through the aisles, and Coixet makes it poignant. Ann is a beautiful 23-year-old girl who loves her life and her husband and her children even though she lives in a trailer. She goes to the hospital thinking that she is pregnant and the doctor tells her that she will be dead in two months from Ovarian Cancer.
The movie is full of cliches. Cliches flood the movie like the cancer in the main character’s ovaries is flooding her stomach and liver. In the beginning of the movie, when Ann is driving her debauched, depressed and over-the-hill mother (Deborah Harry) home from work, her mother asks her why she listens to Spanish language tapes instead of music “like normal people.”
“Mom, no one’s normal,” Ann replies.
Then, after the conversation has changed and they are saying goodnight, her mother says, “Barry Manilow.”
“What?” asks Ann.
“Barry Manilow is normal.”
I may have seen this exact exchange before. But the point is that it doesn’t matter. The point is that people have that conversation. The point is that you have not seen this movie before — even if you have cried over “Terms of Endearment” and “Love Story” and everything else. The point is that these cliches are not just cliches anymore. The point is that the story of a kind, intelligent, sensitive 23-year-old girl dying is not too-played-out for life.
Perhaps what is not like most stories is Ann’s highly questionable decision not to tell her family when she is diagnosed. The distance that this secrecy creates between Ann and the outside world seems to make a stereotype of everyone in her life (with the exception of her lover Lee, played by Mark Ruffalo with all the charisma of his breakthrough role in “You Can Count on Me”). In this way, “My Life Without Me” is a deeply narcissistic story, a story in which the intimacy between Ann and the viewer flourishes at the expense of all of her other relationships. And it is to the great credit of both Polley and Coixet that the bond between Ann and the audience is so intense that we grant her that narcissism without judgment.
After this movie ended, I looked at the candy in the display case until I heard someone else coming out of the theatre. I turned to him: “Am I a sentimental maniac or was that the saddest movie you’ve ever seen?”
Lede: If you are depressed, see this movie.