***/**** Image F Sound B-
starring Anna Friel, Michelle Williams, Oliver Milburn, Kyle MacLachlan
screenplay by Sandra Goldbacher and Laurence Coriat
directed by Sandra Goldbacher
by Walter Chaw Sandra Goldbacher's Me Without You is feral and alive and home to two of the best performances of last year from Michelle Williams and Anna Friel. One of the more uncompromising films about the things women do to one another over the course of a long friendship, it becomes a bit repetitive by the end and a bit like a Jane Austen novel ("Emma, actually," the film helpfully informs) transplanted to the England of the past three decades, but its conventions skate with the honesty of performances from its main trio of Williams, Friel, and Oliver Milburn as the prototypical rakish, misunderstood Austen hero.
Holly (Williams) is a little bookish and a touch on the heavier side, an unconventional beauty made to feel inferior to her flashy best friend Marina (Friel), who, in torn fishnets during the film's pivotal character scene, holds a cigarette for them both balanced delicately between painted toes. Each is fragile in her own way, Holly's happiness tied to Marina's approval, Marina's to Holly's dependence on her; Me Without You traces the pair through their first sexual experiences (Holly's with Marina's brother, Nat (Milburn), Marina's less rapturously with a heroin-pushing punk), and these encounters lead to jealousy and a lifetime's betrayal as Marina pathologically hides Nat's genuine affection for Holly from her.
When the two find themselves in college together, Holly becomes infatuated with a critical theory professor (Kyle MacLachlan) whom Marina promptly seduces. The discovery of that indiscretion is raw and heartrending, and the reverberations of it echo far into the future, triggering Holly's decision at last to separate herself from an increasingly destructive situation. The beauty of Me Without You is the lack of judgment with which Goldbacher colours her characters. While it's never a doubt that Marina is in the wrong, the reasons for her transgressions are painfully transparent and natural in their own destructive way.
The very definition of a character study, Me Without You is a finely-crafted, finely-written, exquisitely-performed picture that's thornily rewarding, a maturation drama so tuned towards the naturalistic that one almost forgets that it remains, at its heart, a melodrama packed with repetitive peaks and valleys--the cycles of trust and disappointment that form a friendship and, the film suggests, ultimately prove the crucible that hardens the bond. Far from an endorsement of poor behaviour or another in a seemingly endless stream of films that make forgiving saps of all women toward their abusive sisters literal and figurative, Me Without You respects the hard edges and brittle veneers built over a lifetime of intimate companionship, and isn't afraid to be optimistic about the whole mess at the same time. Originally published: July 12, 2002.
by Bill Chambers The giant insult that has been lobbed at Me Without You on Canadian import DVD may just start a trend, thus it represents, at the risk of sounding hysterical, a true threat to filmmakers and film buffs alike. TVA offers the picture, you see, in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen for the duration of its opening credits, after which the image becomes panned-and-scanned within or squeezed to fit a 1.78:1 frame! So not only do the letterbox-phobic still have to put up with black bars on 4:3 displays, cinephiles are also forced to watch the telecine operators carry out a massacre. Trying to unlock the baffling logic that led to this ruinous presentation distracted me from assessing other aspects of the transfer, though I noted some mild speckling in the source print. The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 track is slightly muddy in its reproduction of voices (an English subtitle option would not have gone unappreciated); music leans on the front mains for support. Me Without You's theatrical trailer rounds out the DVD. Originally published: June 21, 2003.