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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"There's no me without you."
DVD ReviewAs the old saying goes, change is inevitable. Try telling that to someone who's co-dependent and you might find your favorite pet bunny simmering on the stove when you get home. Painful as it is to experience in the context of male-female relationships, the loosening of a bond cuts much deeper when friends are involved, which sets up the basic premise of Me Without You, one hidden gem of a coming-of-age story getting a long overdue DVD release.
When we first encounter Holly (Michelle Williams) and Miranda (Anna Friel) in mid-1970s London, they're as close as two pre-teen girls could possibly be, going through the rituals of backyard playfulness, giggling over boys and promising to be friends forever. Over the course of the next 18 years, we see that unity tested through many ups and downs, which kick in big time as the two hit the terrible teens as Holly's frustrations over being Jewish and overprotected by her well-meaning parents begin to present themselves. On the other hand, Miranda, more open-minded via her free spirited mum (Trudie Styler), lets her angst out into the open by blaring the sounds of The Clash from her bedroom and recruiting Holly as her accomplice in rebellion, a move that plants seeds of division as time moves on.
During a seemingly innocent foray to the pad of her brother Nat (Oliver Milburn), Miranda crosses the line of what Holly finds acceptable in personal behavior by dabbling with heroin. In addition, Holly's getting all hot and bothered by her lifelong crush on Nat, kept secret from both brother and sister through all these years. Much to her surprise, the feeling is mutual as the two make love with Miranda discovering them from a distance, a sight that almost completely snaps her out of her drug induced high. Brimming with jealousy, she cautions Holly to not take the dalliance seriously, for it was just the drugs talking...but little sis knows otherwise.
As college years begin, the girls continue to trod differing paths; Holly becomes more sophisticated and brainy thanks to many hours spent with her nose in books, Miranda continues drowning in a sea of shallow "party hearty" ways. Despite their increasing differences, their unlikely bond continues until slick, transplanted American literary professor Daniel (Kyle MacLachlan) enters the picture. Hitting it off instantly with the book-wormy Holly during off-campus encounters, all that's missing is sight-gag smoke steaming from Miranda's ears. Not only is she envious of Holly's relationship with the professor on an intellectual level, but her best mate is now a romantic rival as Miranda and Danny have also been having some teacher-student conferences outside the classroom. Before long, it's Holly's turn to accidentally stumble upon an intimate moment...and when she reunites with Nat, who asks if she's been getting word of his friendly inquiries as to her well being in letters to Miranda, the jig's up as Holly begins to question their friendship.
With two appealing leads and a storyline that everyone has lived out at least once in their lives, Me Without You is a funny, bittersweet film. In spirit, it reminded me quite a bit of Walking and Talking, an American film of a few years back that traveled a similar path. But while this British counterpart does have its share of yucks, it's not afraid to be more downbeat and melancholy at times, especially in the way we witness how much Holly achieves in terms of bettering herself only to wind up feeling more boxed-in as the years go by. Although her films haven't had the clout of her fellow Dawson's Creek counterparts, Michelle Williams continues to build up a terrific résumé of quality roles that hint at a terrific future now that the Warner Bros series has departed the airwaves; from her perfectly unforced English accent to the way she credibly ages over the course of the movie as Holly, this is her best work to date.
British actress Anna Friel has a trickier role as Miranda that risks alienating the audience via her character's sometimes unsympathetic actions; but with shades of vulnerability lurking underneath, we feel pity for her, too. There's also a cute romantic subplot that offers much needed relief when the dramatics get too heavy courtesy of Williams, and Oliver Milburne as Nat, Holly's unattainable teenage crush, who finds himself increasingly attracted to her as she reaches maturity. Director and co-writer Sandra Goldbacher follows up on the promise shown in her terrific debut effort, The Governess, with a keen sense of style and affection for the periods depicted in the film, as well as a lush way with sensuality (particularly in a second-half encounter between Nat and Holly that's straight out of Shakespeare).
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Continuing a disturbing trend that seems to be happening more and more, Me Without You has been shrunken from its original 2:35.1 aspect ratio to a 1:85.1 setting. Whether director Goldbacher requested this move or Columbia botched the transfer, I can't say. But what I can tell you is that the cropping is obvious at times: sides of characters faces are chopped off in wide shots, intimate moments where two people are involved in a scene now have a claustrophobic feeling and, worst of all, there are occasional visuals with a large number of participants that come off looking like they've suddenly shed countless numbers of pounds in mere minutes (must be the carbs). Remember how odd the opening/closing credits of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns looked on television? Not good, pretty bad, and kind of ugly. It's really a shame because otherwise, this is a warm, earthy-looking transfer, bathed in beautiful brownish filters. Aside from a couple of instances where black levels are a tad off and some dirt smudges in a scene at the midway point, this would have been an "A" level transfer if not for the letterboxing debacle. Sadly, that's the only reason why I can't bestow a "recommended" symbol upon it.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Most movies of this sort tend to be dialogue driven, but at times this is a very in-your-face 5.1 mix thanks to the superb imaging of classic tunes from The Clash, Echo & The Bunnymen, Depeche Mode and others on the retro-flavored soundtrack that are startling in their clarity, with crystal clear vocals and deep low end. Even in quiet moments, the rears are used effectively with extremely lifelike ambient effects (especially during a scene involving fireworks in the distance).
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dick, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
Extras Review: A trailer and sneak peeks at two other Columbia Tri-Star offerings (including William's adorably quirky turn with Kirsten Dunst in the undervalued Dick) make for a rather disappointing set of extras; a commentary from the film's stars or at least Goldbacher would have brought some interesting perspectives to the table.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsWhile it's a pity that the botched aspect ratio has turned many hard-line home theater purists from purchasing it, Me Without You is still more than worthy of a rental thanks to Michelle William's terrific performance. Perhaps if even better roles come her way, the title will be done right in time.
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