Reeling in the Years

Personal history makes for irresistible period film.


directed by Sandra Goldbacher

with Anna Friel, Michelle Williams, and Kyle MacLachlan

opens Aug. 30 at Seven Gables

Call it Divine Secrets of the Get Yer Ya-Yas Out Sisterhood. The Rolling Stones’ rallying cry certainly fits the spirit of Me Without You. The movie’s raw ethos shames the not-so-Divine estrogen-fest’s safe, self-conscious kookiness with women whose ups and downs reflect life as it is: perilous, confusing, tragic, and wonderful. This SIFF favorite takes on the same hoary old topic of female bonding but manages to pull off a near-miracle—it’s a genuinely affecting chick flick (gag) that doesn’t shy from the murkier gray areas of female friendship, with protagonists who are real, fallible human beings.

Outrageous Marina (Anna Friel) and steady Holly (Dawson’s Creek‘s Michelle Williams) are two middle-class North London girls whose near-obsessive friendship spans three decades from the early ’70s forward. Their bond encapsulates a number of cultural touchstones during its long course: beginning with the breezy, mod Carnaby Street icons of their youth to the safety-pinned punk of their teen years to the stiffly-hair-sprayed new romanticism of university days and subsequent MTV-shaded bohemia of their 20s.

God—or at least a good film—is in the details, and director Sandra Golbacher (The Governess, 1998) nails them all, e.g., Biba bikinis and chilly gutter-punk crash pads, with a dead-on soundtrack to match. Fortunately, Goldbacher doesn’t substitute production design for plot; she always keeps Marina and Holly’s relationship at the forefront, even as their near-Siamese twin attachment is tested over the years by sex, drugs, and myriad betrayals. The movie makes their love/hate/can’t-live-without-you dependency feel achingly true.

As the gorgeous, wild Marina, Friel is a powerhouse, her intensity and insecurity radiating like plutonium off her rigidly attentive body. Meanwhile, Williams’ studious, careful Holly stands constant watch, always the safe port in her best friend’s constant storm. From their first experiences at 15 with heroin (Marina) and sex (Holly) at an estate party to their shared collegiate passion for a sexy yet weak-willed American professor (the supremely well-cast Kyle MacLachlan), the two share everything—until a point. Inevitably, Marina’s heedless bravado and incessant neediness threaten Holly’s growing ambition to stand on her own.

Me Without You is not flawless, but it works. Even if Goldbacher succumbs to a pat ending, she still gives audiences more genuine human emotion, attachment, and engagement than they’ll get from a whole year’s worth of featherweight pseudo-Sisterhood.