September 30, 2003

No Life Without Me

There's a few films that really get the Cinecultist waterworks going. Though we're sensitive, CC's not really a movie-weeper Terms of Endearment and The End of the Affair are two that caused us to awkwardly rub out eyes as we headed for the door. Now we need to add to that list, My Life Without Me, the new movie by Spanish director Isabel Coixet produced by Pedro Almodovar's production company and starring Sarah Polley. Polley plays Ann, a 23 year old woman with two young children and a young husband who lives in a trailer behind her mother's house and works nights cleaning a local university. When she discovers she has advanced ovarian cancer, she makes a list of all the things she always meant to do and sets about doing them.

Coixet appears to be aware of the history of women's weepies, the melodramas about chicks for chicks, referencing them in her narrative structure and dialogue. Deborah Harry, who plays Ann's jaded mother and Jose's first pick for more than worthy Academy Award nominee, watches the classic melodrama Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford (whom she intriguingly blocks on the tv screen with her body) and tells the story of a downtrodden mother sacrificing herself to her impressionable young granddaughters. Ann reacts strongly, telling her mother not to repeat these stories to Patty and Penny, and the movie appears also to be reacting against the norms of typical melodrama. Where the movie, with its decidedly depressing subject matter, could be bleak instead has a lightness and irreverance that's entirely engaging. It's also a movie that's really of its cultural moment, intriguingly referencing pop like Milli Vanilli (Maria de Medeiros' hairdresser wants to give whiter than white Ann Rob n' Fab dreads) and Nirvana (really the sort of music that makes young women cry and the impetus for Ann meeting her husband Don). But these references aren't just trivia, they're the texture that allows the film to resonate.

Just like the patrons who dance through their supermarket shopping, My Life Without Me made Cinecultist waltz out of the theater high on the possibility of small character-driven international cinema.

Posted by karen at September 30, 2003 8:02 AM