My Life

“From the Creators of Ghost,” says the ad for the new movie, My Life, as if it were some kind of guarantee for a successful or satisfying picture, though, with all my reservations about the l990 blockbuster, it wasn't nearly as insufferable as the new picture is. Scripted by Bruce Joel Rubin (in his directorial debut), My Life is conceived by a man who believes that coming to terms with death is the most important subject matter for film, for in addition to Ghost, he also wrote the disastrous Jacob's Ladder, back in l990.

With a running-time of 112 minutes, My Life is a repetitive, “message-oriented” movie that is at least half an hour longer than it should be, though this is only a minor complaint considering the trivial, sentimental that it is.

The usually reliable Michael Keaton is cast as Bob Jones, an arrogant Los Angeles public-relations executive, who one day realizes he suffers from a malignant cancer and has only a few months to live. So far so good. But with his wife (unimpressively portrayed by Nicole Kidman) being pregnant, Bob is determined to leave some legacy for his newborn so that the baby will know who his/her father was and what principles he stood for.

Most of My Life goes on to document not how the happily married Bob and Gail come to terms with his impending death, but how the obsessive Bob prepares a video for his baby, that must be hours long considering the amount of meaningless information it contains, including how to enter a room in an assured, manly manner, and even how to shave.

Rubin's My Life is so concerned with transforming and humanizing its hero that the strategy is also to make the viewers guilty for not being sufficiently good or responsible husbands, fathers, and sons. In the process, the story also reduces Freudian psychology to cliches in its treatment of the relationship between Bob and his ethnically proud father. Jones is the new name Bob had chosen over his real Ukrainian name, in order to obliterate any evidence of his ethnic origins. As an ambitious yuppie, Bob has also neglected to call or visit his parents, who still live in Michigan. In short, it's a movie about how to be a more compassionate human being a few month before you die.

My Life bears some thematic resemblance to a cycle of movies in l991 that I called at the time “male weepies” (Mike Nichols' Regarding Henry began the trend), specifically Randa Haines' The Doctor, in which William Hurt played an arrogant, insensitive doctor who becomes more human and compassionate to his patients only after he himself is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

With all its pretensions to deal with existential issues–the complexities and meaning of life–ultimately, My Life has the depth of a TV sitcom, including a shameless change of gears from comedy to melodrama to pathos and bathos. It's also a disingenuous film that lets its hero eat the cake and have it at the same time.

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