Me Without You

Me Without You leaves the viewer emotionally saturated at one level and somewhat frustrated at another. The movie explores female bonding, a subject discussed ad nauseam in countless Lifetime and Oxygen shows. Analyzing the stereotypes of claustrophobic proximity, emotional interdependence and catty behavior has now become a minor cottage industry in woman-oriented television. Surprisingly, in the face of such pervasive cliches, Sandra Goldbacher has directed and co-written a movie about a curdling friendship between two girls who spend much of their post-adolescent lives together. Wait, wasn’t this the subject of a television movie on Lifetime last week, or, was it the week before?

Perhaps this is a mere quibble; for many excellent films have nauseatingly familiar themes. Titanic for one, was touching in parts, when all the while, it was doing little more than regurgitating the subject of tragic love. But Me Without You fails this test as well. The characters, cast in impossibly contrived situations, are totally estranged from reality, making their roles more suitable to Days Of Our Lives. Indeed, it is only fitting that the movie ends on the most banal note possible.

Me Without You is the story of two middle class girls in suburban England who become friends by virtue of being neighbors. Marina (Anna Friel), a combination of Tonya Harding and Anna Nicole Smith, is aggressive, sexy, and so fiendish that it is a wonder she has any friends at all. Her best friend, Holly (Michelle Williams of Dawson’s Creek, sporting an impeccable British accent) is quiet, shy, and so saintly that it is a wonder she is not more well adjusted or popular. The movie traces the trajectory of their friendship from their prepubescent years in nineteen seventy-three to their mid-thirties in two thousand and one, and keeps track of their lives in roughly five-year capsules. The dates are important, since each period of time is replete with its unique pop culture tags. In the late seventies, the girls are shown in leather pants and spiky boots, attending a stoned out party. In the eighties, Marina’s hair resembles Kelly McGillis’ tresses in Top Gun. In the nineties, she changes her style to the chic straight down dark hair supposedly typical of today’s professional women.

The cultural motifs are the best part of the movie and almost save the it from its trite plotline. Right from the time when the girls start chasing boys, the movie is awash with enough jealous girl scenes to fill a boatload of day time television soap operas. When Marina finds out her brother, Nat (Oliver Milburn) is interested in Holly, she goes berserk with envy, and tears up the love letter Nat naively gives her for Holly. At another time, the girls go to Paris, where they study philosophy and literature with an American professor, Daniel (Kyle Maclachlan.) Holly develops a crush on the professor, and Marina promptly seduces him to spite Holly. This is only the beginning of a pattern. Marina skews Holly’s romances several times in the movie, and sometimes does not even bother to hide her efforts from Holly. Towards the end, Marina voices some keen insights into her behavior, showing how, despite her vengeful conduct, she defines her identity through Holly, and constantly needs Holly’s company to complement her insecure personality. But by this time, the movie has gone into a tailspin, unable to control or explain the evil in Marina and leaving the audience with little motivation to sympathize with Marina’s incorrigibly wicked personality.

Curiously, Holly remains oblivious to Marina’s pettiness. Except for a brief estrangement, Holly continues blithely to hang out with Marina, her bete noir in disguise. She confides in Marina on all matters, including those of the heart, even though she clearly knows her friend does not wish her happiness. The movie is supposedly commenting on the complex nature of friendship between women, at once each other’s confidants and betrayers. But the point could have been made without one friend knowingly and abjectly surrendering to the cruel whims and fancies of another.

The only poignant moment of the movie occurs as it draws to a close, when the families of both the girls are together for a late night party. They play a game of hide and seek in the dark, and in the inky blackness punctuated only by intermittent candlelight, their darkest desires come forth. Marina makes out with Holly’s current boyfriend in a closet. Holly is necking with Nat, and later Nat’s wife finds them with her torchlight. The scene is surreal, an evocation of the desires of the soul otherwise hidden from view in normal life. What a pity that the rest of the movie cannot hold a candle to this scene.

– Nigam Nuggehalli