My Life Without Me
starring Sarah Polley and Amanda Plummer
3 stars

You might think a movie like My Life Without Me, where Anne (Sarah Polley) learns she has two months to live, would be pretty sappy, pretty sentimental. At the very least you might expect some strong anti-death statement, some "Death helps you appreciate just how special and beautiful those moments of life are" kind of idea, something inspirational.

But no. My Life Without Me is very quiet. It doesn't announce. It is entirely ahistrionic. In fact you could say it's barely even dramatic, since Anne makes the least possible dramatic choice: she tells nobody. Nobody ever knows that she's dying, not her mother, not her husband, not her two kids, so all of those dramatic connections between people, their reactions and her reactions, all the histrionics and "drama" -- they don't materialize.

Normally I'd complain about these kinds of dramatic choices, but My Life Without Me finds a place in that quietness, a young woman quietly carrying death around with her as she runs out her last few weeks. She makes a list of things she wants to do before she dies and applies herself to two: sleep with someone other than her husband and make birthday tapes for her two young daughters. Meanwhile she goes through life as before, squeezing around inside her cramped trailer in her mother's backyard, making pancakes for her kids, wiping their hands, saving dinner for her husband, the simple things unadorned. 

Nothing shines with special significance, or roars with special meaning. She's half a step back, watching things happen; her thoughts are the thoughts of a dead person, of a person who's not there. All the ways her death will affect the people in her life, we never see them, because she can never see them. She can only imagine, and explain her choices to the lonely tapes, and take silent solace in the arms of her lover.

It's hard to play a character conceived in inertia and death, but Sarah Polley holds our attention with her huge eyes that don't let on, don't spill the secret. There's something insubstantial and slow about her actions, her presence; it really is her life without her. We see the same light touch with the other characterizations. Debbie Harry plays Anne's mother, a woman who never knew happiness, while Scott Speedman plays Don, Anne's affable, quietly concerned husband whom she met at a Nirvana concert when he gave her his T-shirt to wipe away some tears.

There are tears in this movie, but they're private and rare. You don't necessarily feel a lot while you're watching or when you're thinking about it after. Perhaps it feels a bit like death, just a little… away. In truth, death only has meaning to the living, but My Life Without Me turns away from living and the living to give us a glimpse of what it's like to be the one who's not around anymore. Curious? Then check it out.