In life, people tend to make the same mistakes over and over, a fact anyone who’s ever been in therapy will readily explain to you. Me Without You, the story of best friends Holly (Michelle Williams) and Marina (Rebecca Friel), definitely captures this cyclical nature of human existence. But while the repetition is authentic, it doesn’t always make for good cinema.
The conflict is clearly established in the first few minutes, set in 1973 London. Holly, a middle-class girl who has been brought up to value brains over looks, lives next door to her striking best friend Marina, who has inherited her feisty, carpe diem attitude from her pill-popping, bohemian mother (Sting’s wife Trudie Styler). Holly’s crush on Marina’s sexy older brother, Nat (Oliver Milburn), though unspoken, is a source of contention between the two.
From there, the film leapfrogs to 1978, giving the girls the opportunity to wear torn fishnets, denim miniskirts and t-shirts tied in knots at the side. Holly sleeps with Nat, Marina gets jealous, and a pattern is set which will be repeated for the next 90 or so minutes.
Soon, it’s 1982, and the girls are in college, with permed hair, asymmetrical dresses, bubble skirts, and cute little buttons pinned all over their denim jackets. Once again, the girls’ friendship is dominated by jealousy and competition; when Holly falls for her professor (Kyle MacLachlan), the competitive Marina swoops in for the kill.
This pattern is repeated, ad nauseum, right up to 2001, as are Holly’s periodic encounters with Nat (who seems to show up about once a decade, a new Mohawk or goatee the only clue to his aging process). Both actresses are terrific in their roles, especially Williams, who displays quite a convincing English accent (who knew the Dawson’s Creek star was so talented?). Thanks to their performances, the pair’s friendship is completely believable. Problem is, the film fails to explore why opposites attract as friends, or why friends always seem to be jealous of one another. These facts are simply taken as truth, so the patternistic behavior of the friends is merely repetitive, not revelatory.
Still, there’s plenty to like, including incredible art direction, flawless costumes and a soundtrack of long-forgotten New Romance hits. If nothing else, Me Without You looks like it was a ball to make. Just never mind that the two baby-faced girls don’t seem to age a bit over a period that covers roughly half their lives.