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My Life Reviews

MY LIFE is a shameless tearjerker about a privileged survivor of both the Me and the Greed Decades, who must finally face the prospect of his own mortality in the "back-to-basics" 90s. Bob Jones (Michael Keaton), head of his own thriving publicity company, and his wife Gail (Nicole Kidman) are expecting their first child. He learns that he may not live to see his son due to an advanced cancer and begins shooting a video message to his unborn child, taping pages from his baby book and transferring old home movies. Bob even hires a student to tape interviews with his co-workers about him. They give polite canned responses until one speaker--thinking the camera off--confides that Bob is basically a cipher who fabricated an impressive past, a product of his own PR. Rattled, Bob embarks on a voyage of self-discovery while contending with a challenging new lifestyle: a rigid diet; a battery of tests, medications, and painkillers; and a series of unorthodox but affecting sessions with Mr. Ho (Dr. Haing S. Ngor), a quasi-mystical healer/masseur. The Joneses decide to attend the wedding of Bob's younger brother, Paul Ivanovich (Bradley Whitford), in a working-class suburb of Detroit. Bob revisits his old home and hopes to reconcile with his parents, Bill and Rose Ivanovich (Michael Constantine, Rebecca Schull). They are embittered because Bob changed his last name, moved to the West Coast, and rarely called. Old hurts and resentments arise and the Joneses leave Detroit without informing the Ivanoviches of their impending tragedy. Back in LA, Bob resumes his video project and his new life's work. He confronts a childhood fear by finally riding a formidable rollercoaster. Though a young companion urges him to let go of the railing as the descent begins, Bob firmly holds on. He is living on borrowed time--beyond the date the doctors gave him--when his son is born, but soon learns the cancer has spread to his brain. A kind, no-nonsense nurse, Theresa (Queen Latifah), joins the household to help Gail care for her dying husband. Bob's parents fly to LA when they learn the news and all are reconciled. They even surprise him with the backyard circus he wanted so badly as a child. Bob dies in the supportive bosom of his family. Riding a metaphysical rollercoaster, he finally lets go. MY LIFE marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, who has made a good living musing about death with projects as diverse as BRAINSTORM, GHOST, and JACOB'S LADDER. Rubin, who did a stint in the mystic East to get his philosophical bearings, has imbued his film with an earnestness that tempers the project's inherent sentimentality. Michael Keaton's star persona--a basically likeable guy with dark undertones and an irreverent attitude--also helps ward off some of the omnipresent potential for self-pity. Keaton's Bob Jones is not a bad guy who learns to be good; he's a mediocre guy who feels a bit better after accepting who he is. Nonetheless, MY LIFE has a self-satisfied streak that's very hard to take. It's filled with the brand of New Age narcissism that animates contempoary stereotypes about the West Coast, and could just as easily have been titled I, ME, MINE. Of course one can afford to be mellow about one's fate when one leads such a charmed life. Jones has no apparent financial worries; one never fears that his widow and child will experience much deprivation after he's gone; medical care is no problem; and, being the boss, he can take off as much time as he needs to find himself. The story would have been a bit more gripping if Bob had to face some of the myriad problems millions of Americans are grappling with each day. MY LIFE touches on many questions prompted by impending death. What kind of life did I live? Did I get along with my family? Did people like me? Of course, by film's end, all these issues are resolved in an upbeat manner. Far more complex and engaging questions can be found in IKIRU ("To Live"), a sublime 1952 Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa, which depicts how a minor bureaucrat copes with the news that he is dying. Part of the answer involves doing good for others--an option that never arises here. In the final anaysis, MY LIFE would have worked just fine as a TV movie. (Adult situations, profanity.)