Me Without You

(2002) ** 1/2 Unrated
107 min. Fireworks. Director: Sandra Goldbacher. Cast: Anna Friel, Michelle Williams, Kyle MacLachlan, Oliver Milburn, Trudie Styler.

Sandra Goldbacher's Me Without You might just as well have been named Co-Dependency: The Movie. Detailing the shifting fortunes of two "friends for life," the film spans decades--the nostalgia-ready focus is on the '70s and '80s--to reiterate the old saw "you only hurt the ones you love."

In 1973 London, young Holly (Michelle Williams) and Marina (Anna Friel) make the archetypal friendship pact, but instead of the "Ya Ya" brand, they imagine themselves as a single entity (with the movie monster name "Harina"). Indeed, the two remain inseperable, through schooling and beyond. Holly harbors a thinly veiled crush on Marina's brother Nat (Oliver Milburn), while Marina stumbles along, compulsively trying to knock her smarter, warmer friend down a peg.

The screenplay--co-written by Goldbacher with Laurence Coriat--is admirably rough-edged, to a point (though the last time-jump marks a phase so abrupt and sunny that it plays more like a punchline than a coda). Accordingly, most of the visuals are overcast or shadowy. Goldbacher further sets the mood with depressing period styles and a crowded soundtrack of alternative artists (The Clash, Depeche Mode, Nick Drake...).

Among the cast, Williams and Milburn fare best, with their consistently deepening (and unabashedly soapy) relationship fueled by intriguing stolen conversations. Meanwhile, the otherwise fine Friel can't help but come off as a shrill vixen once the screenplay tips her hand as a self-aware saboteur of her best friend's happiness. The novel supporting cast includes Kyle McLachlan as a smugly promiscuous professor and Trudie Styler as Marina and Nat's spacy mother.

Goldbacher's aspiration--to deconstruct the obsessive, partly destructive relationship between lifelong childhood friends--is more fascinating than the squishy results she gets, but Me Without You remains a reasonably affecting relationship drama until the pat finale breaks the spell. Those who see themselves in the complicated emotional politics (or who hate to miss '70s/'80s period pieces) will likely fill in the blanks and feel more than the rest of us.

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