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Film review: My Life Without Me

Published: Thursday, Nov. 13 2003 1:28 p.m. MST

Sarah Polley is Ann and Mark Ruffalo portrays Lee in "My Life Without Me," the story of a twentysomething mother who is dying of cancer.

Bob Askesler, Sony Pictures Classics

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A first-rate cast is the one thing that "My Life Without Me" has that most of the like-minded, supposedly "four-hanky" melodramas produced by cable television's Lifetime network don't.

Any film that features the likes of Sarah Polley and Mark Ruffalo — two indie-film actors who always give their all, no matter the quality of the material — already has a lot going for it. Yet, curiously, this weepy drama seems a little flatter, less involving, than it should. Especially with a cast like this.

Some of its plotting and character development seem just plain wrong-headed. At times, it's as if the film is trying to get us to dislike its main character, Ann (Polley), a young woman who's dying of cancer.

She's a twentysomething mother of two who got married and had children at a very young age. Ann begins to realize that she's never really "lived" when her doctor gives her a grim diagnosis (she's got months remaining, at most).

So she tries to start living her life in earnest. She begins taping a series of birthdays-to-come messages for her young daughters (Jessica Amlee and Kenya Jo Kennedy), and tries to find another wife for her-soon-to-be-spouseless husband (Scott Speedman). She even gets a long-overdue makeover.

But she keeps her terminal illness from all of them — as well as from Lee (Ruffalo), an unhappy, divorced man with whom she's gotten involved (making love to other men is another thing on her peculiar "to-do-before-I-die" list).

The character of Ann is written as though she has a chip on her shoulder, which makes it difficult to feel sorry for her, despite her obvious plight. Still, the doe-eyed Polley does her best to make us sympathize with her as much as we possibly can.

Ruffalo does her performance one better. Thanks to his tormented turn, Lee emerges as the film's most easy-to-like character, one who deserves better than he actually receives here. (As does Speedman's seemingly clueless husband character, though he's not nearly as well-developed.)

"My Life Without Me" is rated R for scattered use of strong sexual profanity, a brief sex scene and other sexual contact, brief drug content (use of prescription drugs) and some sexually suggestive talk and other innuendo. Running time: 102 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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