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My Life Without Me

Tired of crying over Terms of Endearment? Looking for a tragic death-too-soon guilty pleasure besides Dying Young? My Life Without Me (2003) offers an alternative in the contemplating-my-own-death-because-I'm-dying-young film genre, following in the tradition of such classics as the Michael Keaton weeper My Life and the Bette Midler/Barbara Hershey tearjerker Beaches. Sarah Polley stars as Ann, a young wife and mother living in a trailer in the backyard of her mother's house. Married by the age of 17 and the mother of two at 19, twentysomething Ann works as a nighttime cleaning woman at a local university while her husband Don (Scott Speedman) spends his days building swimming pools. When Ann collapses at work she suspects she's pregnant, but instead she discovers she has terminal, inoperable cancer and only a short time to live. However, she decides to keep this news a secret so she can suffer in silence and not bum anybody out. Ann makes a list of ten things she wants to do before she dies (even though she's not living in Denver). She records birthday messages for her two daughters, tries to make amends with her disagreeable mother (a haggard-looking Deborah Harry), and visits with her estranged father (Alfred Molina) who is in jail for an unspecified reason. Ann's strangest desire is to make love with another man and make him fall in love with her — weird, since she and Don have one of the happiest marriages ever portrayed on film. Why she wants to fool around when she has a great husband and she's in terrible pain is somewhat of a mystery, but the lost and lonely Lee (ever-mumbling Mark Ruffalo) becomes the object of her desire, and Lee does indeed fall in love with Ann. However, he's fresh off a painful relationship after being left by his lover and needs this encounter like he needs a hole in the head. Ann's last wish is to find another wife for her husband. Fortunately for her (and especially her weakened condition), the perfect replacement lives next door. Ann succeeds in setting up the possibility of a romance between the neighbor (conveniently named Ann so the husband won't have to learn a new name) and the soon-to-be-a-widowed Don. In one of the creepier scenes, Ann the dying is lying in bed while Ann the sequel is in the next room bonding with the kids and Don. Based on the short story "Pretending the Bed is a Raft" by Nancy Kincaid and written and directed by Isabel Coixet, My Life Without Me is slow and choppy despite the worthy efforts of Polley, who tries hard to bring some depth to Ann's character. Unfortunately, there's no getting around Ann's selfish, narcissistic tendencies, even when they are wrapped up to look like kindness and generosity. The writing and directing of My Life Without Me feel immature, and the look of the film is coarse and unimaginative. However, it does have its tragic moments that are worthy of good soap-opera fare and merit a good cry — although you may be crying because you gave up two hours of your own life. Sony's DVD release presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a brief "making-of" featurette and bonus trailers. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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