Polley plays Ann, a 23-year-old whose father (Alfred Molina) loiters in prison while her mother (Deborah Harry) chooses to languish in an emotional dungeon. Ann herself has launched too early into motherhood, perhaps to imbue her so-called life with meaning. She tends to her dewy husband, Don (Scott Speedman, Canadian for Heath Ledger), and young daughters (Jessica Amlee and Kenya Jo Kennedy, both pros) in a trailer in her mother's yard. Ann admits in one of many hypnotic voiceovers that she's "not used to thinking." The daze burns off fast when she discovers that she has only a few weeks left to live.
Coming near the tail of a damned awful year for losing gifted people, My Life Without Me boasts built-in poignancy. Significantly, Coixet's tale parallels the last days of intrepid songsmith Warren Zevon, whose foreknowledge of the death he'd been romanticizing for decades led to an astonishingly simple decree: "Enjoy every sandwich." Here, once the dire news has sunk in, Ann reflects similarly: "Candies are so good."
Like Zevon, Ann mounts an ambitious agenda for her final days, producing in her pink notebook a "List of Things to Do Before I Die." But she keeps her ovarian tumors a secret; only her timid physician (Julian Richings) knows the truth. He bears the aforementioned candies -- she refuses stimulants and depressants -- and agrees to harbor the cassettes on which Ann is recording messages for her loved ones.
Ann is finally conscious and claiming responsibility, but her actions are both touching and deeply disturbing. She extends kindness to her weight-obsessed janitorial coworker (Amanda Plummer). She also sets up her husband with a new wife and then takes romantically ransacked Lee (Mark Ruffalo) as a lover, just to see how it'll feel.
It wouldn't be fair to laud Polley without also commending her costars -- including Talk to Her's luminous Leonor Watling as a fortuitous new neighbor -- for delivering the greatest collection of soul-searching soliloquies in recent cinema. This sounds like a horrid cliché, but My Life Without Me is the most life-affirming film about death to come along in ages, and it brings an updated theme to the genre of tragic romance: Love means telling everybody absolutely everything before it's too late.