Me Without You



UK 2001
director : Sandra Goldbacher
script : Goldbacher, Laurence Coriat
cinematography : Denis Crossan
editing : Michael Ellis
music : Adrian Johnston
lead actors : Michelle Williams, Anna Friel, Oliver Milburn, Kyle MacLachlan
108 minutes

Who says they don’t make ‘women’s pictures’ any more? Me Without You may be this year’s most shameless chick-flick, expressly designed to strike a powerful chord with the late 20s/early 30s Bridget Jones crowd. This is a much more ambitious project, chronicling 28 years in the friendship of Holly (Williams) and Marina (Friel), from their childhood in a leafy London suburb.

We first encounter the pair (played by child actresses) in 1973 when they’re about 10, a carefree summer of sun-spangled skies and dreamy pop tunes – so far, so Virgin Suicides. 1978 is more Ghost World, as the pair evolve into us-against-the-world would-be punk rockers. By 1982, the friends are studying at Brighton University, where they’re both bedded by American lecturer (or rather lecher) Daniel – MacLachlan looking understandably knackered. By 1989, the pair’s relationship has reached its lowest ebb, but a 2001 wraps everything up on an upbeat, too neatly circular note.

Williams makes a decent stab at the very tough role of the introspective, Plath-reading Holly, coping OK with the demands of the British accent even if she occasionally she falls into the same too-posh trap as Thora Birch in The Hole. Marina may be a trampy, superficial good-time girl, but Friel gives her sufficient energy to remain just the right side of sympathetic as she endures endless changes of hairstyle and costume. As her nice-guy brother – and Holly’s on-off lover – Milburn flits in and out, but he’s an insipid screen presence at the best of times, and Allan Corduner and Deborah Findlay make much more impact as Holly’s eminently respectable parents.

Nicky Henson and Trudie Styler, meanwhile have fun as Marina’s rather more dissolute father and mother – Styler’s character resolutely sticking with her early kitsch 70s d├ęcor as the decades click by. If anything, the film is rather too preoccupied with capturing the trends of its various eras, with slavish, if occasionally sloppy, attention to period detail: when Holly tells Daniel that her favourite Tarkovsky film is Nostalghia, we aren’t surprised, given the way she (i.e. Goldbacher) constantly harps on about the past. Only one problem: Nostalghia hadn’t even been made in 1982 – no wonder Daniel’s never heard of it.

Me Without You feels like a work of semi-confessional autobiography, but there isn’t enough substance in the material, the characters and their relationships to dispel a distinct sense of ego-trip. May viewers will lose patience and wondering we should pay to see what’s essentially two hours of celluloid-as-therapy – exactly the kind of film you’d expect Holly to make. And that isn’t a compliment.

16th October, 2001
(seen Oct-6-01, UGC Parrs Wood, Manchester)

by Neil Young
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