When friendship, especially one struck up in childhood by two girls, becomes the subject of film, it usually becomes featherbedded in precious stereotypes or loses the male audience as it follows the characters growing up and/or close -- hence the term "chick flick."
To its credit, "Me Without You" follows neither of those well-worn paths, even as it remains true to its feminine instincts and explores the darker side of friendship minus the post-ironic whining. In the hands of writer-director Sandra Goldbacher, "Me Without You" is smart enough to show that enduring platonic relationship is never straightforward, and that it often turns manipulative, passive-aggressive and suffocating before light dawns.
Much of the spark in this film comes from the performances of Anna Friel (who plays Marina to annoyingly brash perfection) and Michelle Williams (a surprise treat in that the "Dawson's Creek" star is convincing as a British girl). There is no substitute for on-screen chemistry, and when Friel pulls the strings that make Williams sink into melancholia, the reaction in Williams is as visceral as a gut punch.
Together, Marina and Holly attempt just about everything -- alcohol, drugs and dressing twice their age to gain access to a party where members of the punk band The Clash are supposed to show. They never do, but Marina's brother Nat (Oliver Milburn) is there, and thus begins a slow-burning romance that never quite catches fire. Often, this is because Marina is quick to trample it out. When Nat gives her a love letter to pass to Holly, Marina reads it and tears it up.
Though loud, cocky and seemingly undaunted by anything, Marina cannot bear to share Holly's affections. Holly, though she wears Marina like a noose, enjoys the subtle power she wields. Theirs never becomes a sexual relationship, though it does carry some of that current; we see them at one point taking a luxuriant bath together.
The only the bum steer in "Me Without You" comes in the person of Daniel, played by Kyle MacLachlan of "Twin Peaks" fame. It's hard to tell whether MacLachlan was dealt a bum hand in an otherwise fine screenplay or acted on auto-pilot. But this much is certain: His double-seducing college professor is a sleaze cliche for the ages. Whether club-hopping with Marina or reading smarmy stanzas to Holly, to watch Daniel in action is to see the love train chugging in from a mile away. Part of this has to do with tone confusion as well. Are we really supposed to believe Daniel's bad Beatle haircut and purple satin sheets, or laugh at them?
Thankfully, Daniel's screen time washes off as quickly as his declarations of amour, leaving a bulk of the film to explore how Holly and Marina attempt to transcend their twisted, vine-like bonds without severing them. It is here that Holly finally takes the lead, and in doing so, she stretches the fabric of their friendship to the breaking point, one where new and liberating shapes appear.
3 stars (out of 4)
"Me Without You"
Directed by Sandra Goldbacher; screenplay by Sandra Goldbacher, Laurence Coriat; photographed by Denis Crossan; edited by Michael Ellis; production design by Michael Carlin; produced by Finola Dwyer. A Fireworks/Samuel Goldwyn Films; opens Friday, Aug. 16. Running time: 1:47. MPAA rating: R (language, sexual content and drug use).
Marina -- Anna Friel
Holly -- Michelle Williams
Daniel -- Kyle MacLachlan
Nat -- Oliver Milburn
Linda -- Trudie Styler Isabel -- Marianne Denicourt
Lou Carlozo is a Chicago Tribune Staff Writer.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun