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Film Reviews:

Director & Writer....Isabel Coixet

Sarah Polley .... Ann
Scott Speedman .... Don
Deborah Harry .... Ann's Mother
Mark Ruffalo .... Lee
Leonor Watling .... Ann
Amanda Plummer .... Laurie
Julian Richings .... Dr. Thompson
Maria de Medeiros .... Hairdresser
Jessica Amlee .... Penny Kenya
Jo Kennedy .... Patsy
Alfred Molina .... Ann's Father
Sonja Bennett .... Sarah

There is a chemical reaction that takes place sometimes between the punter and the movie title. I can’t explain it, but some titles have a compulsion to them and if this happens to you, as much as myself, you will also avoid reviews about these films, if there are any at all. There are tons of films out there that just don’t find the audiences they deserve. 'Welcome to Collingwood' for example. Why on earth wasn’t that a hit? So now I have learned to go and see one of these ‘special’ films in the first week because they disappear way too fast.

A good title and interesting cast seems to be a way to ‘trust’ the medium. A lot of actors on the way up find they do all their ‘interesting’ work in the early years. Steven Buscemi for example. Right now Scott Speedman and Mark Ruffalo are hot and both are in this little Spanish movie made in Canada.

So when I suggested ‘My Life Without Me’ to Kit on a rainy Saturday, she took one look at the poster and shook her head. Too depressing. ‘Trust me, it will be good.' I replied. I could see she was thinking about all the other little films I have pressed ganged her into seeing. ‘Dirty pretty things’ though well crafted, wasn’t exactly feel good, for example, but ‘the wonderful ‘Flower and Garnet ‘was and so too were ‘Whale Rider’ and ‘Spirited Away’. 'Trust me, it’s got Sarah Polley in it, Mark Ruffalo and Debbie Harry. It has to be good'.

Mark Ruffalo (lee) watches Ann in the laundromat
Of course, some people may not get past the poster or the plotline. ‘A young woman of 23 with two pretty kids is told she has terminal cancer and has just three months to live’
Depressed? Don’t be. This may be a film about a girl who got pregnant too early by Scott Speedman and dropped out of High School, it might look bleak that all she does now is clean University classrooms instead of learning in them. It might look particularly horrid that she has to live in a trailer behind her mother’s house. The mother who is bitter because her husband is in jail and she has to bake cakes for a living. No matter.

Ann meets her neighbour
'Ann'- Leonor Watling
In the end films are about people, humans living a life and even though Ann, (Sarah Polley) is diagnosed with cancer, after the initial shock she makes a list. Other people might go to pieces. She writes a list. One item: Make someone fall in love with me - it’s a selfish thing to want, but she has only ever known one man and wants more, she also wants to find someone to love her kids as much as she does and marry her husband when she’s gone. She sits down and literally plans a life to go on without her in it. Unoticed by her, Lee (Mark Ruffalo) is nervously watching her and hoping this is the girl for him.

I shall not reveal more, but this is a curiously uplifting film that stays with you long after you have seen it. Sarah Polley is astonishing as Ann, Mark Ruffalo is so much more three-dimensional than in ‘In the Cut’ his other current release. Amanda Plummer is not as scary as she used to be, thank god, and Debbie Harry is comforting with her anger and indifference. The kids Peny and Patsy are wonderful. Scott Speedman is a star now after 'Underworld' but is nicely boyish and low-key here.

You don’t know why Ann is so sweet, or accepting. There is nothing in the family make-up to make her so, but she, as her husband tells her, unsuspecting that she is terminally ill, never complains. No matter how shitty their lives are, she never complains. Ann is a rare individual and you fall for her, just as Mark Ruffalo’s character does. She seems translucent and transparent with no deceit.

The Director Isabel Coixet has the backing of Pedro Almodovar as producer on this and she is clearly working on a theme in her work. In 1996 she directed ‘Things I Never Told You’ in Spain. Working in Vancouver must have been quite a change to her native Barcelona.

Vancouver stands in for anytown, as ever; the rain is perhaps excessive, even for the Pacific Coast, but as much as they try to make the city seem depressing, it isn’t and locations around False Creek and New Westminster are used well. This is a blue-collar drama, but it is also all heart with some wit and fine small performances from the supporting cast. Alfred Molina makes a brief appearance as the jailed father, but all in all, this is Sarah Polley’s film and she gives a performance of her life so far.
If this film comes to a cinema near you, do go, otherwise rent it and don’t forget the tissue box, you’ll need it.

Sarah Polley as Ann

© Sam North November 2003
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