For a 23-year-old, the actress Sarah Polley exudes impressive gravitas, and for her role in My Life Without Me, that's a good thing--because she plays Ann, a 23-year-old woman who's about to die. Ann's tragic situation is made even more so when she realizes she's never known what it's like to 'really live.' Married at 16, having a child at 17 and again at 19, living with her two adorable daughters and her chronically unemployed husband in a funky trailer which is parked in her mother's backyard, working as a night janitor to make ends meet...well, this is definitely not a romanticized story of a young life cut short. (The ill-fated heroine of Erich Segal's Love Story comes to mind.)

When Ann is told, early in the film, that she has but a few months to live, she decides to keep this news to herself. So when her mother (a tough but tenderhearted Deborah Harry) remarks on Ann's pallor, or when her friend and co-worker Laurie (a strident but nevertheless sympathetic Amanda Plummer) begs her for her diet secrets, Ann says she has a severe case of anemia and lets it go at that. Yes, it's difficult to believe that Ann would bear such awful news alone, that someone so young would not need to share her shock and grief with at least one of her nearest and dearest. And it's difficult to believe her nearest and dearest would not even suspect the seriousness of her condition.

Instead of seeking sympathy, Ann takes out a writing pad and makes a list of things she has to do before she dies. Like finding a new wife for her extremely likeable and loving husband Don (Scott Speedman). A neighbor, coincidentally also named Ann (Leonor Watling), seems to suit nicely. (The girls adore her and she can cook.) Ann also acquires a tape recorder to sit alone in her car taping messages for her daughters--one for every birthday until they're 18--as well as her mother, her husband and--here we go--her new lover, Lee (Mark Ruffalo). This furtive adulterous affair is evidently supposed to give Ann the feeling she's really lived. So she can die happily? If so, it seems to make little difference to her in the end--which, by the way, proves to be amorphous as well as anti-climactic.

Filmed in Vancouver in the rainy season, My Life Without Me is beautifully bleak to look at, befitting the film's tragic theme. And the performances, especially those by Polley, Harry and Watling, are fine. But some viewers, like this one, are liable to feel an emotional disconnect with Ann's silent suffering. She doesn't come off as a 'heroine,' which evidently was the intent of writer-director Isabel Coixet when she adapted the published story 'Pretending the Bed is a Raft' for her screenplay. There may have been a reason why, in the original, Ann doesn't share her feelings with someone. In My Life Without Me, Ann is more an enigma than a heroine.

--Shirley Sealy