Daily Mirror

Daily Mirror - Friday 7th November 2003 - Page 40-41

KEVIN O'SULLIVAN AT THE MOVIES
MY LIFE WITHOUT ME
Cert 15, 106 mins ****

When I heard about the plot of this decidedly unglamorous movie, I thought I'd skip the cinema and go to the dentist's instead. Getting my teeth drilled sounded like far more fun than sitting through the depressing story of a cancer-stricken young mother with just two months to live. But I'm afraid it's bad news for Dr Lawrence - he's still bottom of my least favourite list. And, amazingly, My Life Without Me is right at the top of the charts when it comes to this week's non-Matrix movies. Against the odds, director Isabel Coixet has delivered a heart-warming, uplifting, charming and often very funny saga of a young woman for whom a death sentence opens up a new ocean of opportunity. When Ann - played with distinction by the appropriately thin and pallid Sarah Polley - writes her catalogue of "things to do before I die", it includes the touching pledge to record special messages to her little daughters. One for each birthday until they're 18. But there's also the rather shocking, "Sleep with another man to find out what it's like". This adds up to bad news for the only guy she's ever been with - her loving husband Don - and a real treat for the mysterious Lee who bags himself a seriously keen female suitor. Sharing a trailer parked in his mother-in-law's rubbish strewn garden, out of work Don (Scott Speedman) finally lands a job digging swimming pools in Seattle. Not the most secure of professions in a city where it rains for 335 days a year. But his wife, whom he met at Nirvana's last ever concert when she was 17, decides to keep her lethal cancer of the stomach a secret. Not only from him. But from everyone. Even Lee never finds out the unlikely mistress he wooed in a launderette won't be around to press his buttons for too much longer. In the role of the brooding other man, Mark Ruffalo salvages his reputation after his embarrassing antics opposite Meg "serious" Ryan in their pretentious and juvenile sex flick In The Cut. Ruffalo - Hollywood's man of the moment who seems to have starred in every other movie lately - appears to be carving out a monolithic career playing a succession of soulful bird pullers. But in this oddball slice of life drama he won my approval for the first time. He'll be delighted because I know he values my opinion above all others. Meanwhile, Ann's chain-smoking mother makes her dying daughter look like a barrel of laughs. This maternal merchant of doom is played by the great Deborah (formerly Debbie) Harry - who will always star in my personal hall of fame thanks to her Blondie days when she sang Atomic, the best pop song of the '80s. (Discuss.) Constantly brushing the flour from her famously platinum hair, Ms Harry's portrayal of an emotionally cauterised bakery worker proves that she's every bit as good an actress as she was a pop icon. No joke. She puts in a great performance. Gradually, Ann succeeds in her mission to rebuild her own life, with the significant exception of herself. She establishes a close relationship with her pretty neighbour - a nurse also called Ann - who tells the impossibly sad story of cradling Siamese twins for 30 hours until they died. Played by Leonor Watling, this is the woman chosen to be a new mother for her beloved daughters and a replacement wife for the profoundly decent Don. With the palette of this ostensibly harrowing situation, the talented Ms Coixet paints a life-affirming picture full of comedy. Britain's own Amanda Plummer is hilarious as Ann's calorie-obsessed workmate Laurie, who chomps her way through the nightshift cleaning the local university and whose idea of dinner is eight spareribs and a mountain of mashed potato. And, with her outmoded, black, braided locks, Maria de Madeiros is a hoot playing a hairdresser who cannot forget the alleged injustice surrounding the downfall of lip-synching pop frauds Milli Vanilli. One of the haunting qualities about this super little movie is that it's about an America that the headlines never reveal. Struggling to get by and forced to endure the indignity of the US's risible public health system, politics and presidents are clearly an irrelevance to products of the underclass such as Ann. Raging against the unfairness of her fate, she declares, "I never drank, I didn't take drugs. Just the odd drag of a joint. But like that guy who used to be President of the United States, I never inhaled". Bill Clinton - read this and weep.

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