With a best friend like this, who needs an enemy?
One of my biggest pet peeves is the overuse of the term "best friend," particularly by women. A best friend does not talk about you behind your back, she doesn't flirt with the guy you spotted first at the bar, she doesn't belittle your ambitions, she doesn't steal your boyfriend, and she doesn't sacrifice your happiness for her own.
Facts of the Case
Holly (Michelle Williams, Dawson's Creek, Halloween H20, Dick) and Marina (Anna Friel, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Rogue Trader, Sunset Strip) live next door to each other in suburban London. They are the best of friends and have been for as long as they can remember. We first meet the two in 1974, when they're still speaking secret languages and forming unbreakable friendship pacts. Neither has the perfect family—Holly's mother has an overabundance of pragmatism ("Some people are pretty people, and some people are clever people, which is more important than looks."), and Marina's mother (Trudie Styler) could do with a dose of it—but each thinks the other does. Marina longs for stability while Holly feels stifled and underestimated.
Fast forward to 1978 and the midst of teenage angst. Marina and Holly are tired of their monotonous lives and tired of being inexperienced, so when they learn that Marina's older brother, Nat, plans to attend a weekend-long unchaperoned party at his girlfriend's house, they decide to crash. Overdressed in their best punk-rock garb, they show up at the house and invite themselves in. It's soon apparent that the gathering is less a party than a drug-induced coma, so, in an attempt to hide her hesitance and insecurity, Marina follows an encouraging man to the back room, where he shoots her arm full of heroin. Holly, perhaps in retaliation or more likely just in response to years of attraction, lies down next to Nat and caresses him, urging him to respond. Marina sees her best friend and her brother mid-coitus and returns to her drug buddy, who proceeds to bring her back to level peggings with Holly.
The next day finds Nat leaving for Greece, but not before entrusting with Marina a note he's written Holly, explaining that he loves her but the timing is bad and he's confused. Marina tears up the note and, when Holly asks after Nat, says he didn't even mention her. "They're all pigs, Holly. You've got me; you'll always have me."
Fast forward again, this time to 1982 and Marina and Holly at university. Holly develops a crush on Daniel (Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks, Showgirls), one of their professors, and then, not-so-coincidentally, Marina does as well. Daniel, with only a brief grimace of guilt, gets to have his cake and eat it too. (Although, as he tells Holly when the jig is finally up, what he has with Marina is only sex. But, while Holly stimulates his mind as well as his body, Marina is irresistible.)
Marina discovers the deception first, but refrains from cluing in Holly. Thus, when Nat shows up soon after, seeking refuge from a breakup, we can see Marina's gears turning and she soon attempts to attain her revenge by swaying Nat, painting Holly's relationship with Daniel as a pathetic obsession. Nat is unconvinced, though, and he and Holly repeat their 1978 performance. The next morning, enamored of each other, they decide Holly should break up with Daniel, but when she arrives to do so, she sees Marina kissing him in the doorway. Holly can't deal with Marina's betrayal and runs off, and Nat runs back to his soon-to-be fiancée.
The film fast forwards two more times, once to 1989 and once to the brief ending in 2001. In 1989, we see that nothing has changed. Marina still unknowingly sabotages Holly's happiness and self-esteem to give herself a boost. And Holly still tolerates the stifling friendship. Marina doesn't know how to live without Holly; Holly doesn't know how to live with Marina. And Holly and Nat still dance around each other like awkward preteens at their first dance, afraid of rejection.
Will the final time warp be enough for the three to finally get it right?
Other than the pet peeve I mentioned above, I thoroughly enjoyed Me Without You. Once I got past the "best friend" references and allowed myself to explore the complexity of Holly and Marina's relationship without the label, I was captivated by the characters, drawn in by the dialogue, spellbound by the story. Yes, I couldn't get enough of this film…until the end. What happened? The end felt like a copout to me, as if the writer didn't know how to wrap up the story so instead skipped ahead again, leaving the audience to figure out how the characters could have gotten to this point B from the point A at which we last saw them.
Up until the very end, though, the film is a gem. It's a poignant look at how dysfunction functions, at how the good can make you forget the bad ever happened, and at how sometimes we should forgive and forget rather than discard. A rare happy medium between the usual portrayals of friendship as so perfect it's unattainable or so ugly it's futile, Me Without You is a study of the complications of female friendship: the jealousy, insecurity, and cattiness that we take out on each other, but that we put up with from each other too.
As a character-driven film, Me Without You is held together by its realistic dialogue and its fantastic actors. Anna Friel is brilliant, giving Marina the perfect mix of spunk and sadness, making us just sympathetic enough not to hate her and just frustrated enough not to love her. And Michelle Williams holds her own, especially as the only American putting on an English accent. Said accent is nearly flawless, marred only by how flawless it is. It's so perfect and so proper that it doesn't match Marina's natural accent, although the two have supposedly grown up next door to each other. It can be explained away by the education levels of Holly's parents, though, so I won't complain any further.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio track is quite good, as well it should be to do justice to the fantastic '70s and '80s soundtrack that accentuates the film. The dialogue is crisp and the music is well rounded. The video transfer does not meet such a high standard, as I saw much more shimmering than should be expected and the colors all look somewhat washed out and dull.
Last, and certainly least, I'll mention the extras: three trailers. Surely you jest! Measly trailers? No commentary track, no deleted scenes, no nothing? Unacceptable.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
We watch these characters for 27 years, but do they grow at all? Is Marina any less controlling of Holly than she was when they were children? Is Holly any less timid? Does anything really change?
Is that supposed to be the point?
Me Without You is flawed, but not fatally, and it's still worth watching. Perhaps it will make you reevaluate your own friendships, or perhaps it will give you an insight into the female psyche. Watch it and find out.
For reminding us that perfection lies in the imperfections, Me Without You is cleared of all charges.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Trailers for Me Without You, Dick, and He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
Review content copyright © 2003 Elizabeth Skipper; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.