Me Without You
In a way, bad relationships are easier to break up than bad friendships, if only because the concept of breaking up doesn't really enter into friendships, which can rot on the vine forever without either party doing anything about it. Some are fortunate enough to drift apart over time, but others, like the one in Sandra Goldbacher's sharply observed Me Without You, seem to intensify as they get worse, spiraling into a toxic cycle of jealousy, betrayal, and emotional codependency. Spanning two decades from early childhood to young adulthood, with each period dressed with an unusually flavorful sense of the music and décor, the film shows the steady progression of an unhealthy bond that continues long after the initial good feeling has curdled. As a sign of things to come, the opening shots of suburban England in 1973 recall Blue Velvet in their iconic green lawns and sprinklers, which have become the standard shorthand for the rot that festers under the surface. First seen skipping rope and playing games in the uncomplicated bliss of pre-adolescence, two next-door neighbors and best friends enter their late teens on the wave of the British punk movement, and their anxiousness to grow up quickly opens a subtle rift between them. The product of a broken home, with a valium-popping mother and a father who charms his way into their lives at his convenience, Anna Friel, the more free-spirited and reckless of the two, masks her intense insecurity with sexual aggression and competitiveness. Friel's deep connection to Michelle Williams, a passive wallflower who retreats into activism and intellectual pursuits, doesn't stop her from sabotaging Williams' on-again/off-again relationship with Friel's older brother Oliver Milburn. The pattern repeats itself at college in the new-wave '80s, when Friel and Williams secretly have an affair with an American critical-theory professor (a hilariously unctuous Kyle MacLachlan) who has a habit of sleeping with his students. Goldbacher sets up a virgin/whore dichotomy between the two that's a little too pat, especially when she plainly aligns herself with Williams, knocking the viewer's sympathies off balance in the process. But she knows all too well the familiar, mutually destructive dynamic that can set in with close friends over time, perpetuated by their compulsive need to confide in each other over problems they've caused for themselves. Ironically, the nagging problem with Me Without You is that it's so locked into their exasperating cycles that it begins to repeat itself, bringing fewer fresh insights into the film's second half. Aided by raw, committed performances from her two leads, Goldbacher makes them tough company for themselves and anyone else around them, on or off the screen.