Life or Something Like It
Director: Isabel Coixet

Director: Stephen Herek

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

My Life Without Me Sarah Polley is one of our finer young actors, no mere barbi starlet. While ordinary pretty faces play the Hollywood games to get coverage on infotainment news programs & Oscar nominations for their forgettable movies, this quiet Canadian actress has been building a filmography worthy of eternal pride rather than momentary glitz & commercialism.

As the heroine Ann, at age twenty-three, she learns she's got two or three months to live, ovarian cancer having already spread to her liver. She tells no one but makes a list of what she wants to do before the end, in My Life Without Me (2003).

That list includes: Tell her daughters (Jessica Amlee & Kenya Jo Kennedy) as often as possible she loves them; have sex with someone other than her husband (Scott Speedman) just to find out what it would've been like to have had more than one lover; tell no one she's dying.

My Life Without MeFurthermore she wants to: Cause someone to fall in love with her; find a replacement for herself who will be a good wife to her husband & good mother to her kids; visit her father (Alfred Molina) in prison; record messages for her daughters' birthdays through age eighteen; & a few other items to be achieved, ten in all, mostly very slight things.

And what we are about to experience amounts to trailer trash heroism. Some of the heroics have an underlying villainy to them, but Ann's aware that the dead have no regrets, & she won't have to live with the guilt of any action. Mostly, though, she is motivated by her own inate goodness in the face of sudden extinction.

After a while, the fact that the biggest dream in her life has been to cheat on her husband grows thin, & she seems less & less a person who could've used her life for any good purpose anyway. Depriving her family of any ability to say goodbye is cruel to them as well. Wanting someone to fall madly in love with her before she drops dead is also an act of cruelty toward whoever that forlorn person might be. And making the recordings for daughters' future birthdays gets stretched out to mawkishness.

My Life Without MeSo yeah, the film has it's clunky moments & maudlin bits that should've been trimmed, & plenty of easy obvious stuff into the bargain.

But more often it takes an inherent tearjerker premise & makes a set of very good character studies out of it, some of them darkly comical, all of them rather strange, with some grand actorly performances by the entirety of the supporting cast.

For instance, Ann's mother's tale of the birthday for herself approaches lunacy & one has to admire Debbie Harry's performance as the unhappily self-absorbed mom. Ann's philosophy, "No one's normal," certainly applies to the people in her life.

The woman she finds to replace her with her husband & kids tells a "sad" story of her own sensitivity which is one of the most howlingly ridiculous tales of all time, the "true" story of the death of Siamese twins not of the same sex (a biological impossibility), the female side living six hours longer than the male side. Stupid as it is, we even so get a good character study out of the performance, Leonor Watling giving this "second Ann" a pleasantly nutty veneer.

My Life Without MeI'm not even convinced the biologiical impossibility upon which her story falls apart wasn't an intentional part of the script, evidence that "second Ann" is just as loony as everyone & makes stuff up.

Ann meets the surprisingly (even stupidly) romantic Lee (Mark Ruffalo) in a laundromat, through whom she lives out a couple of her fantasies.

Wickedly pursuing her dream for someone to love her with great agonizing pain before she dies, it may well not be Lee who fullfills that part of her list, but is instead her friend Laurie (the always brilliant Amanda Plummer). Laurie is a marvelously appalling character, a diet-obsessed janitor & in love with Ann.

Where this film is good, it is very very good. It has enough flaws that it cannot be called a masterpiece. But it is unique & fully rewarding, not really a black comedy but a sincerely peculiar one.

Some viewers will be left devastated by this film, but really the inescapable tragedy of the piece is generally avoided in favor of life's endless absurdities, all of which Ann must pack into so short a time. The same story, if it had focused on being a three-hanky-weepy, couldn't possibly have the same artful impact.

Life or Something Like ItLainie (Angeline Jolie) is a dithering self-important prime-time newscaster in the Seattle market (on KOMO 4 to be specific), in the lightweight romantic dramady Life or Something Like It (2002).

Like just about all regional newscasters, & certainly all of 'em bar none in the Seattle market, Lainie is superficial, egocentric, & not especially talented.

The most Lainie has going for her is her character-design, which puts her in a platinum blonde hair-helmet rendering her as unappealilng as Angelina Jolie is capable of being.

Then one day street prophet Jack (scene-stealing Tony Shalhoub) during a live newscast intrudes on the scene to predict sports scores, the weather, & Lainie dying in one week.

The first two predictions Jack got right, so now she's sure she'll die in a week. And suddenly she sees her "successful" life for what it is, pointless & unhappy. She begins to be a little more human, a little less of a gross-out, but still focused on achieving the only thing she has ever wanted & never felt she had: Her father's approval.

She's married to a famous baseball star but that's just another element of her life that now seems fake. They have nothing in common; & in old-fashioned romantic-comedy terms, she may actually love a co-worker she has only apparently disliked.

Life or Something Like ItThe script takes one smart turn in that Jack the prophet (who is not nearly as important a character in the story as he deserved to be) in time informs Lainie that if he could be wrong just once in his life, he could stop being a street-loonie & get a home & live as a normal man.

Shaloub is inevitably a better actor than Jolie; he creates much more sympathy; & if the manner by which Lainie's fate affected Frank's fate had been followed through with greater wit, the film might've been much better.

Unfortunately the film as it stands appears foolishly convinced that only Lainie's story matters & Angelina is supposed to carry the film by herself. And she's just not up to it, certainly not with this script.

Lainie's hair-helmet vanishes. Some personality develops. She covers a bus strike & is amost really engaged by the story she is sent to cover. She gets the entire strike-line singing "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" & she becomes a news hour hit. And it took rather a long while, but at this moment the film comes alive, though this liveliness will not last long.

One of the most foolish incidents of product placement in a film -- for Altoids -- will be more memorable than the film itself, which becomes increasingly trivial as the climax approaches.

And as a trivial story, large events cannot be in the offing. How the script resolves the issue of prophet Jack always being "correct" is okay but fact is, the script didn't have a place to go. As a light romance between Lainie & Pete (Ed burns), it got worse & worse, so that ultimately this is only a date flick for those who aren't going to have many dates.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

[ Film Home ] - [ Film Reviews Index ]
[ Where to Send DVDs for Review ] - [ Paghat's Giftshop ]