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My Life Without Me | Review

Dead Girl Walking

Film avoids the clichés and offers a bittersweet joyful look of life after death.

Avoiding a clichéd Kleenex box symptomatic subtext, this melancholic co-Canadian production is perhaps at times a little too happy in the rain for such a subject matter, but beneath the surface is a strappingly frank portrait from one of Canada’s best imports in actress Sarah Polley. In a distinctly female auteur voice, Isabel Coixet’s My Life without Me is not about putting on a brave face at death’s doorstep but rather about staring it down and making sure that each moment counts before and after one is gone.

Usually in mainstream films a tale about the final moments before death would be interpreted by a older man planning his to pull off one last bang before the skies welcome him, thankfully this narrative revolves around one young woman who hasn’t realized all the little dreams in life-the kind of hopes and aspirations that we are granted on a daily basis. Death is not commonly associated with being young unless you are talking about Jimmy Dean and this film exposes it from a resilient female point of view. Polley plays Ann, a girl without a bright future or brilliant past as her living in a trailer park home would explain, but somewhere she is trying to make things right by helping her two girls grow. When a visit to the doctor reveals the worst case scenario we watch her set out to make her itinerary which begins in a coffee shop and is visually spelled out in writing on the screen. The rest of the feature deals with this list that even includes an awkward moment where she wants to live out a passionate connection the kind of thing that one would she in the movies. Mark Ruffalo (View from the Top) plays the guy who gets lucky and then jipped and a cast of other familiar faces such as Deborah Harry (Spun) fill out the bit parts.

Where My Life Without Me succeeds is in defining and capturing the moments of power inside a powerlessness type of situation. Jean-Claude Larrieu’s photography illuminates her state of mind and close-up sequences like the monsoon wash your thoughts away sequence or the “if you don’t kiss me right now I’ll scream” bit gives the film an emotional credibility. Besides the no frills aspect of the film, there are a handful of touching moments such as a mother taping her future birthday wishes to her daughters that are incredibly sad in nature but it avoids the Barbara Walters tactics and instead goes for something a little more real. It also helps that Polley delivers what is perhaps her best acting since The Sweet Hereafter.

Coixet offer a refreshingly-grounded view on the issue of death which I haven’t seen in films for a while and the film protagonist feels like a real person and not some cardboard characterization. I have a feeling that My Life without Me is the type of film that will leave an impression in a kind of hard to sum up in words kind of way. This is poignant without attempting to make a big resounding life-affirming point and is perhaps good viewing medicine for those who take the precious little moments for granted. Put this film on top of your to do list.

Rating 3.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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