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[whitespace] 'Me Without You'
Were You Really In 'Dune'? Anna Friels quizzes Kyle MacLachlan about his checkered career in 'Me Without You?'

The Sweetest Girls

'Me Without You' is a lovable movie about growing up

By Richard von Busack

MARINA (Anna Friels) is a well-off teenager from a troubled family. Her dearest friend and rival, Holly (Michelle Williams), is a quieter but drabber girl. The two spend about 20 years together at school in Brighton and the nicer outskirts of London. Me Without You comes across as a kind of epic, but the two heroines aren't tempest-tossed--neither conquers any worlds, endures any diseases worse than a hangover or, until the film's coda, gets married and raises a family. The film is an epic in the sense that we see a large chunk of history through Denis Crossan's elegant widescreen photography--the world changes subtly behind these characters.

The girls, who as children swear to be best friends for life, grow into would-be punk-rock sirens, then become students at a seaside university. Both fall for their semiotics professor, Daniel (an uproarious Kyle MacLachlan). Both end up in London: Marina becomes richer, sleeker and more neurotic; Holly holes up with a vampire novel she's trying to write.

The soundtrack of New Wave hits and rarities helps make Me Without You a rich look at the way some people spent the 1970s and 1980s. Director Sandra Goldbacher fades in on the year 1982 not with Bruce Springsteen but with the Normal's electricity-zapped "Warm Leatherette." Scritti Politti's "Sweetest Girl" accompanies the courtship between Marina and Daniel, and that's canny. But if songs alone could make a movie, Wes Anderson would be as good as Robert Altman. Me Without You shines because of Goldbacher's intimate direction--a saner, lighter version of Jane Campion's impressionism.

Michael Carlin's set design is satirical yet observant. Holly's childhood house changes from a paisley palace to the kind of dismal luxuriousness lampooned on Hipgnosis Studio's album covers for the band 10cc. The furnishings mutate through the years, but the place stays the same, still reeking with dashed hopes. One early passage could make any director's name. These healthy suburban girls are trying to disguise themselves as street punks to go land some boys who supposedly know the Clash personally. They try on plastic trash-bag dresses and give each other stage hickeys on the neck to convince the guys they're experienced. The kiss that Holly gets that night--the kiss she thinks about for the rest of her life--she gets accompanied by the sound of her best friend being noisily sick in the bathroom, just offscreen. John Travolta be damned, this truly was the 1970s!

I loved Me Without You for its acid view of female friendship. Both Williams and Friel give lovable, irascible performances. On the downside, when Holly gets cut down one last time by her chum, you grow restless waiting for her to strike back. Still, the coda--either a final meeting or a first wary remeeting--signifies an open mind at work. Goldbacher defies the cut-and-dried morality of the dreaded chick flick.

Me Without You (R; 107 min.), directed by Sandra Goldbacher, written by Laurence Coriat and Goldbacher, photographed by Denis Crossan and starring Anna Friel, Michelle Williams and Kyle MacLachlan, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose avd the CinéArts in Palo Alto.

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From the August 1-7, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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