Sunday 5 June 2022

Movie Review: My Life (1993)

A family melodrama, My Life is a well-intentioned and warm-hearted exploration of priorities at death's gateway.

In a prologue set in Detroit, young Bob Ivanovich rushes back from school eagerly anticipating a circus in his backyard to celebrate his birthday. He is disappointed his parents did not actually arrange the event. The disappointment compounds Bob's embarrassment that his father is a just a scrap metal dealer, and he withdraws into himself.

Thirty years later, Bob (Michael Keaton) has shunned his family, changed his surname to Jones, and relocated to Los Angeles. He is now a successful public relations executive and happily married to Gail (Nicole Kidman), who is pregnant with their first child. He is stunned to receive a terminal cancer diagnosis, and learns he just has months to live.

Bob starts to record video messages containing lessons in life to his unborn son, and reluctantly seeks treatment with Mr. Ho (Haing S. Ngor), a traditional Chinese healer. Gail also insists they travel back to Detroit to attend the wedding of Bob's brother Paul (Bradley Whitford), a trip offering Bob an opportunity to reconnect with his parents.

Undoubtedly sentimental and expertly manipulating a path towards a torrent of tears, My Life looks back at buried regrets and ahead to the final end. Writer and director Bruce Joel Robin frames the story through the lens of a video camera as Bob prepares for a future that does not include him, but then broadens the narrative towards linking physical disease with emotional pain.

It's easy to surrender to the film's charm, despite hokey excesses. Mr. Ho's treatment consists of holding his hands above Bob's body and sensing the ailments within. As visions of bright lights spark through Bob's head, it's not terminal cancer Mr. Ho is looking for, but rather the poison of resentment Bob harbours towards his family. Embarrassment metastasized into rejection, Bob's version of the American Dream not finding room to appreciate the sacrifices of immigrant parents.

The rest is easy to predict, from Bob overcoming his life-long fear of rollercoasters to finding the tortuous path to reconciliation, as the shadow of a looming death ironically removes the shroud of acrimony. The videotaped vignettes offer interludes of humour and poignancy as a dad communicates with a son he may never meet.

Through it all Michael Keaton plays the appropriate notes from denying his emotions to welcoming a greater love, as the make-up department works overtime to usher death into the room. Nicole Kidman has an easy role as the good wife prodding her husband towards forgiveness, and Haing S. Ngor trots out all the trite eastern mysticism cliches. 

Undoubtedly fluffy, My Life welcomes death with few sharp edges, but plenty of moisture.

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