by Marcy Dermansky
It is always disappointing to me when I want to fall desperately in
love with a film and can't. After a pitch-perfect beginning, director
Sandra Goldbacher's sophmore film, a drama that explores an obsessive
friendship spanning the 70s and 80s, cannot sustain its screentime.
Goldbacher achieves moments of perfection. In an early scene during the teenage years, the tragically bored Marina (Anna Friel) and Holly (Michelle Williams) crash a party at Marina's brother's girlfriend, looking for experience. They don plastic garbage bags (funny!) and put on excessive make-up to a house full of raggedy boys sleeping drug-induced sleep in the bright afternoon. When Holly's uptight mother asks her daughter the next morning what the girls did, Holly resonds, wonderful in her flat in delivery, "Oh, nothing special, hard drugs and casual sex." "Me Without You" has one of the most poignant and off-hand losing-your-virginity scenes. The camera is distant, focusing on Marina, who watches in disbelief from down the hall.
Friel's Marina is a vain party girl. William's Holly is the 'plain' one, bookish and obsessed with social causes. In their early college years, the differences between the two is interesting. Their differences are played out in subtle power struggles over men, including Kyle MacLachlan as the dashing English professor and Marina's brother (Oliver Milburn) a man who in his early twenties seems worth fighting for, but in his thirties has lost his appeal.
It is heartbreaking when childhood friendships between girls come to an end. Goldbacher certainly knows this. This is the center of her film. Unfortunately, she felt the need to stretch her story half an hour further than it can go. Friel and Williams convincingly portray their characters from the ages of fifteen to their early thirties, but when Friel's Marina starts hitting the bottle and cries, "I am pregnant, I will die without you," she's gone to places she never needed to go. "Me Without You" has sunk into the morass of melodrama.
The main problem with "Me Without You" is the character of Marina. The dark haired Marina goes through many fashion changes to reveal her character's development, from punk rock plastic to an early eighties Madonna wanna-be with long badly dyed blond hair, bustiers and hoop skirts, and finally to a Betty Page sort of cool. She is interesting to look at, but otherwise despicable. Marina is a horrible friend, manipulative and clinging, but the unforgivable nail in her coffin is that she is an unlikable character. And if we don't like Marina, it is hard to understand why the far superior, more attractive, more intelligent friend sticks by her--time after time after time. William's fans will not recognize their blond perky Dawson's Creek star with her dark locks and masterfully rendered English accent. Because William's Holly is so very endearing--her addled English schoolgirl character makes you melt--the entire premise of the film ceases to make sense.
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