A young wife and mother finds out she has two months to live. She makes a list of the things she wants to do before she dies, like recording birthday greetings for her two daughters for each year until they are 18, finding a new wife for her husband, getting fake nails and doing something about her hair, visiting her father in jail, and having someone fall in love with her.
Now, this plot could be a generic Lifetime made-for-tv-movie with a former sitcom star showing off a little range and a lot of mascara while dying beautifully and reminding everyone how sweet life is before the last commercial. Or, it could be what this movie is, a sweetly specific story, tenderly told.
Ann (Sarah Polley) does not get to do everything on her list. Or perhaps it is more that she revises the list as she learns that the life that chose her when she became pregnant at 17 is one has been very precious to her. She takes control of what she can and lets go of what she can’t. She learns that all the things we try to do and buy to keep us away from death don’t work.
And she revises the lives of people around her. Lee, a surveyor who lives in an empty house, waiting for the woman who left him to bring back the furniture, learns that he can love someone new. Ann’s sepulchral-looking doctor learns that he can look death — and life — in the eye. Her neighbor, another Ann, learns that she has more love to give than she thought.
There are lovely moments as Ann and Lee sit on the floor in his empty house, his arm around her, as the doctor brings Ann the candy she likes, and especially when she envisions people dancing through the aisles of the grocery store. And it is impossible not to be touched by Polley’s simple sincerity.
Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and non-explicit sexual situations, including adultery. There is a reference to a drinking problem and Ann puts drinking and smoking as much as she wants on her list (but does not do much of either). The theme of the movie may be very hard on some audience members, but others may find that it helps them to address some sensitive issues.
Families who see this movie should talk about what they would put on their lists, and whether those kinds of lists are good to keep in mind even without an immediate need. Ann says there is no such thing as “normal people.” Do you agree? Why was the mention of Milli Vanilli, the musical group who was famous for lip-synching to recorded voices, so appropriate for this movie? What does the doctor mean when he says that dying is not as easy as it looks?
Families who enjoy this movie should also see My Life with Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman and The Doctor with William Hurt. They will also enjoy the classic weepies No Sad Songs for Me, about a dying woman who wants to find a new wife for her husband and Sentimental Journey, about a dying woman who adopts a child as company for her husband. And they might want to listen to some of the music of Blossom Dearie.