Sarah Polley is believable and engaging as no-nonsense Anne, whose cancer is beyond treatment when it's diagnosed. She refuses hospitalization, telling family and friends she has anemia. Controlling but compassionate, she's patient and supportive with her sweet but limited husband (Scott Speedman), the only boyfriend she's ever had, and with her diet-obsessed co-worker (Amanda Plummer). Tensions flare more readily with her mother (Deborah Harry), a woman all but immobilized by disappointment, while her father (Alfred Molina) mopes in jail. But with the clock ticking, Anne realizes that she too has been living in a state of defeat and, fulfilling the boldest item on her list, embarks on a love affair. Mark Ruffalo plays the gentle, battered soul who introduces her to "Middlemarch," Blossom Dearie and illicit passion.
Spanish writer-director Isabel Coixet, working from Nanci Kincaid's story "Pretending the Bed Is a Raft," clearly intended that her protagonist have more vitality than the variously numbed, beaten down and despairing characters around her. But the approach creates a dramatic imbalance, leaving Anne's friends and family feeling like a set of literary constructs. The exceptions are a powerful scene between Anne and her likely successor (Leonor Watling of "Talk to Her") and, especially, the interactions with her doctor (Julian Richings), a man haunted by death. Richings' fine performance as the only one who knows Anne is dying gives Polley something to play against, making their connection charged and real. If there had been more such unpredictable, rough edges in Anne's endgame, "My Life Without Me" would have been far more convincing and compelling. Starring Sarah Polley, Scott Speedman, Deborah Harry, Mark Ruffalo, Leonor Watling, Julian Richings, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros and Alfred Molina. Directed and written by Isabel Coixet. Produced by Esther Garcia and Gordon McLennan. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Rated R for language. Running time: 105 min