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My Life Without Me (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scenes footage; Cast and crew biographies; Q & A with director Isabel Coixet; Trailers; Music video.

PREVIEW critics were handed a packet of hankies before entering the screening for this film, so you can imagine that My Life Without Me is the type of weepie that is really serious about attacking those tear ducts.

Whether it succeeds in making you cry, however, depends, largely, on how hard a heart you possess, for there is no denying the affecting power of Isabel Coixet’s film, or its ability to make you think for some time afterwards.

Sarah Polley stars as night-time cleaner, Ann, who, at 23, has two young daughters, a husband who spends more time unemployed than working, a mother who hates the world, and a father who has spent the past ten years in prison.

Her routine existence is rocked, however, by the discovery that she has only months to live, a revelation she resolves to keep to herself, but which prompts her to draw up a list of things to do before she dies, mindful of the fact that her daughters will have to grow up without her.

The ensuing film, while certainly heart-rending, cleverly avoids the temptation of becoming too depressing or heavy-handed, opting instead to spend time with Ann in a life-affirming way, as she sets about ‘providing’ for her loved ones after she has gone, while satisfying her own desires by allowing a complete stranger (Mark Ruffalo) to fall in love with her.

By doing so, it packs a far heavier emotional punch, culminating in a genuinely poignant finale that really does tug at the heart-strings, without really feeling as though it is manipulating them.

And while a grim sense of inevitability hangs over many of the proceedings, particularly during moments when Ann is seen recording birthday messages to each of her daughters, the film also strikes a nice balance between the obvious tragedy of the situation, and a humour which never feels misplaced.

Hence, characters such as Amanda Plummer’s weight-fixated co-worker, Deborah Harry’s chronically whinging mother, and Maria de Medeiros’ quirky hairdresser provide some welcome relief from the serious business which could have dominated.

The film also stands or falls on how sympathetic you find its central character, and in Polley, it has a mesmerising performer. The talented young actress is devastatingly understated as Ann, who refuses to give up and feel sorry for herself, even as her health begins to deteriorate.

Hence, what could have become another showy ‘at death’s door’ performance, designed to showcase an actress’ ability, turns into a tremendously affecting one, which is grounded in a reality not usually reserved for this type of fare.

Her down to earth character is always convincing and totally sympathetic, even though some may feel her decision to keep her predicament to herself is bordering on the selfish.

Ruffalo, too, is on terrific form as the enigmatic stranger, possessing real presence, and an almost haunting stare, as he bids to understand and trust his newfound relationship.

Coixet’s film has been backed by Spain’s premier film-maker, Pedro Almodovar, and frequently reaches the emotional intensity of much of his previous work (especially Talk To Her), making it the type of movie which, while certainly an acquired taste, can’t fail to touch those who see it.

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