My Life Without Me: Modern-Day Camille Is Fatally Self-Absorbed

A TERMINALLY INFURIATING sniffler, My Life Without Me (which opens Friday, Oct. 17, at the Harvard Exit) offers radiant selfishness disguised as heroism. When we first see our wan angel, Ann (Sarah Polley), she's standing at a rainy Vancouver bus stop, talking about herself in voice-over, in the second person. Uh-oh. While allowing herself to really, really feel the wetness, she considers, "All the things they talk about in the books you haven't read." Huh? Ann's not the only one wet clear through the movie's premise is squishy to the core. Discovering that, at the age of 23, she has rampant ovarian cancer and roughly two months to live, Ann makes a Things to Do list while telling friends and family that she's merely anemic. That list includes finding a prospective wife for her sweet husband (Scott Speedman); audiotaping annual birthday messages for each of her two young daughters until they're 18; saying what she thinks; visiting her dad in jail; doing something with her hair; and making someone fall in love with her, "to see what it feels like." "You've never been so alone in your life," Ann tells herself. "Lies are your only company." Only if the script says so. What about the company of the family that loves her unconditionally, of the ones she's making damn sure will remember her (at least until they're 18)? Her clan is supposed to be as close as the Little Fur Family; living in a cozy trailer behind the house of her mother (Deborah Harry), there's not much money but plenty of sex and rolling around with the kids, plus lots of cute made-up stories before Ann slogs off to work on the night cleaning crew at a nearby university. But let them be part of her leaving? Unthinkable. As her days dwindle down, her deception is the equivalent of suicide without a note, martyrdom created to give Ann the upper hand always. As Ann checks off her list, her new love turns up before reel three (Mark Ruffalo, in dented-can modeagain), and a very hot prospect for her husband (Leonor Watling) by reel five. Possibly because writer-director Isabel Coixet is Spanish and Life was produced by Almodóvar's company, there are also moments of semimagic realism including waltzing grocery clerks and a reappearing guy playing a glass harmonica. None of it makes any more sense than Coixet's premise that the movie is about "heroism." Polley is good at being infuriating, and sprinkled throughout the film are hapless good actors: Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, and an unbilled Alfred Molina as Ann's father. Hard to tell what leaves a worse taste: the fairy-tale coda, or the idea of those poor kids, bracing themselves each birthday for the homilies from a mother who left without saying good-bye.

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