How To Be Happy With My Life Without Me

Here's a far less frustrating US/ UK comparison to ease the tensions of yesterday's post. Today's film is 2003's international collaboration My Life Without Me, written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet, based on a short story by American novelist Nanci Kincaid. But despite those two nationalities, it's primarily a Canadian production, starring Sarah Polley. This was a new release right in the heyday of DVD, so it was given decent editions all over the globe. But they're not identical, so today I'm looking at the US and UK discs, from Columbia Tri-Star and Alliance Atlantis/ Metrodome respectively.

Update 11/11/15 - 9/13/21: I suppose the biggest unspoken question in a post where I debate the merits of the US vs the UK DVDs of this movie is, "what about the blu-ray? Don't you know it's out on blu in Japan? Surely that's better!"  Well, maybe, maybe not...

Also, since it's Update Week, I've added the DVD edition to my Color Out Of Space post. You might wanna pop over and have a look just to see the difference resolution makes in actual 4k digital movies.
Man. I'd forgotten how good this film was until I pulled it off the shelf again for this write-up. The plot might sound pretty melodramatic or "chick flick"y - a young mother finds out she's in the final stages of incurable cancer and creates a list of what to accomplish in her final months. But it doesn't wallow in sentimentality. Instead of telling her family, she breaks off on her own and almost mercenarily works her way down the list; and while the list is mostly well-intentioned, it's also sometimes selfish and unsympathetic. The controversial item on her list is to "make someone fall in love with me," which is naturally unethical given she's already happily married and the guy she selects is left in the dark. They don't go the easy route and make her a saint who always does what the audience wants, but all of her choices are recognizably human and relatable.
It's a really powerful, yet funny film. I've seen Coixet's follow-up film, The Secret Life of Words, which also starred Polley, and it was alright but definitely not on this level. Believe me, if you've seen that and were underwhelmed, don't let that put you off of this one. It's just one of those films where all of the elements fell together just right. Coixet found the perfect story for her sensibilities and ideal actress for the role. There's a brilliant supporting cast including Amanda Plummer, Alfred Molina, Scott Speedman, the admittedly debatable Deborah Harry, and a pre-Marvel Mark Ruffalo. The film has an impressively lush look considering how it's almost entirely handheld and a catchy but emotive soundtrack. It seemed to get a strong response when it opened, but it's due for a revival.
1) 2006 Alliance UK DVD; 2) 2004 Columbia Tri-Star US DVD;
2011 Shochiku JP BD.

When I said these DVDs weren't identical, I clearly wasn't talking about the transfers. These are practically impossible to tell apart. Both are anamorphic and letterboxed to 1.82:1 (and believe it or not, neither disc is interlaced!). As for the blu? Well, it mattes the film to a more proper 1.85:1. The film's soft and grainy, since it was apparently shot on 16mm then blown up to 35, but it does look a little clearer on the blu. Grain looks fairly natural on the DVDs, but in direct comparison, it's definitely finer/ less splotchy on the blu.  But you won't see it unless you zoom in close. Colors are strong and consistently the same across all three discs.
2004 Columbia Tri-Star US DVD left; 2011 Shochiku JP BD right.
There is one peculiar detail, however. For one single scene, the second set of shots above, the Shochiku blu swaps ARs to 1.78:1.  It's just for some (not all) of the shots where what she's writing on the notebook is printed on the screen.  And if you look at the writing on-screen, for some reason it's placed a little more to the right than on the DVDs.  It's not really a problem - it took me ages to realize it was happening - but it sure is inexplicable.

The discs start to drift apart in the audio department. Both DVDs have a 5.1 mix and optional English subtitles, but only the UK disc also sports a 2.0 track.  The Japanese BD gives us the 5.1 in lossless DTS-HD (yay!), but drops the 2.0 track in favor of a lossy Japanese dub.  It also drops the English subs, naturally substituting them with Japanese ones.
What's that she's reading?
More noteworthy are the extras. Both discs feature a fun if grungy looking 'making of' doc that runs for 30 minutes. It's widescreen but non-anamorphic on both discs, but hey, it's just an extra, right? It's still definitely worth the watch. It's all behind-the-scenes footage and interviews conducted while filming, with some pretty revealing, candid moments. But that's all the US disc has, apart from the trailer and a couple more bonus ones.

The UK one is more of a special edition, which should attract the film's fans. It has the same doc, in the same condition, as the US disc. But then it also has a set of six interviews (Coixet and five of the stars), which are expansions of the ones we saw clips of in the doc. After that is a 2003 Q&A with Cioxete at a London screening. The footage is clearly handheld, low-fi video but it's matted down to 2.35:1 for some strange reason... maybe to crop off somebody's watermark? Anyway, it's still an interesting talk, and the sound quality is good for this type of thing. And it's all wrapped up with two trailers (English and Spanish) and a music video (not anamorphic either - grr) for one of the film's theme songs, pairing the singer with clips from the film. Oh, and there's more bonus trailers.

The Japanese blu, now?  Just the trailer and a paper insert with chapter titles.  It's barebones, baby.
So, overall this is a fairly happy review. You've got cheap DVDs (we're talking penny discs on Amazon) of a great little film available on both sides of the ocean, both of which are quite good. And for the serious fan who wants more, there is a very mild BD upgrade available to import, which at least gives you lossless audio along with its slight visual bump.  Still hang onto your DVD(s) for the extras, and honestly, unless you're a die-hard fan, the BD double-dip is very easy to pass on.  But it's an option, which is nice.

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