Directed by Isabel Coixet, starring Sarah Polley, Mark Ruffalo, Scott Speedman, Amanda Plummer, Leonor Watling, Deborah Harry and Alfred Molina.
With an instantly off-putting title, 'My Life Without Me' sounds like an indie weepie with an inflated sense of its own place. This conjures up images of interminable navel gazing and catatonia-inducing introspection, and when you learn it's the first English-language project from Pedro Almodóvar's El Deseo company, you worry that crossover teething problems will also arise.
Well, this is an indie flick; it is, so to speak, a weepie, but it's certainly no dud. Ann (Polley) is 24, has two daughters with her first and only love Don (Speedman), and works nights as a cleaner at the local university. Hers is a dead end existence. She loves her children and her husband, but even her dreams seem buried by the inexorable grind of daily living. Then she finds out she has cancer.
Given just two or three months to live, Ann decides not to tell any of her family and resolves to do the things she always wanted. These range from the mundane (getting her hair and nails done), to the life-altering (making someone fall in love with her). In the interim, she continues to be a doting wife, tries to improve her relationship with her mother and even visits her estranged father in prison.
Initially Ann's decision presents something of a dilemma to the viewer: we sympathise because she is dying, but this sympathy is tempered by her steadfast refusal to share news of her fate with those that most deserve to know. Her reasons – that she wants her last days to be fun-filled, upbeat affairs – are understandable yet always troubling.
But the film doesn't shy away from the issue, and through a series of poignant and frighteningly honest recordings to her family, Ann simultaneously explains her choices and asks for forgiveness. Many of these recordings are the cornerstone of 'My Life Without Me' – well-acted, well-scripted, often emotionally devastating.
As hard as it is to see the character of Ann being able to remain so calm and resigned, Sarah Polley does a fine job here. Wan and wasting, her performance is always the right side of pity, and is often remarkable in the way that it manages to isolate the twisted sense of freedom which comes with her tragic position.
Around her all the supporting players do a solid job. Ruffalo is fast becoming one of the most interesting actors around, and one thing he never does is overact. Plummer, Harry and Watling are all as solid as they need to be, while only Speedman lacks the depth required for the deceptively routine part as the husband.
'My Life Without Me' is low-key, patient, very touching and very sad. And yet for all its bleakness it is a film of hope in the midst of hopelessness, and should leave even the most granite-gazed misty eyed. It is a warm, melting analysis of life through the cold eye of death.