My Life: Bruce Joel Rubin’s Schmaltzy Directorial Debut, Starring Michael Keaton as Dying Man

“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 1990 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 Jacob’s Ladder, back in 1990.

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 its sentimental nature.

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.

As his wife (Nicole Kidman) is pregnant, Bob is determined to leave a legacy for his newborn so that the baby will know who his/her father was and what principles he stood for.

Instead of showing how the happily married Bob and Gail come to terms with his impending death, the movie details Bob’s obsessive preparation of a video for his baby.  The video contains mounts of information, including how to enter a room in an assured manly manner, how to shave.

Rubin’s My Life is so concerned with 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 1991 that I had labeled as “male weepies”–Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry began the trend.  In 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.

Pretentious to a fault in its effort to deal with existential issues–the complexities and meaning of life–My Life has the depth of a TV sitcom, with a shameless change of gears from comedy to melodrama to pathos and bathos.

It’s also a disingenuous film, which lets its hero eat the cake and have it at the same time.