One of the most telling moments in My Life comes in a cut from Bob (Michael Keaton) massaging his very pregnant wife Gail (Nicole Kidman) to the same action with the positions switched – Gail now desperately trying to ease the pain of Bob's galloping cancer.
This is the pattern of the whole movie: Bob's problems and his pathos take centre stage while Gail scarcely gets a look-in.
My Life is Bruce Joel Rubin's first attempt at direction, and it deftly combines the themes of his scripts for Ghost (1990) and Jacob's Ladder (1990). Rubin's mushy, New Age fascination with the experience of death glides seamlessly into an exploration of the male psyche, as Bob undergoes a rapid, sentimental education.
The script (also by Rubin) plays it safe at every point, raising unspecific references to spiritual beliefs (Bob sees heavenly strobe lights every time a Chinese masseur touches his chest), while making cancer appear an almost painless condition.
The film begins better than it ends. Keaton, a performer of great and wily charm, captures superbly Bob's initial scepticism and the tight knot of repressed emotion and defensive posturing that keeps him functioning from day to day. But once the film descends into endless scenes of Bob taping a video letter to his son-to-be, even Keaton's gift of comic irony cannot undercut Rubin's heavy schmaltz.
Kidman has an even more difficult acting job on her hands, since Gail is granted only two character traits: utter selflessness and a love of show-tunes. A token scene of Gail touching her swollen belly and begging Bob to "love us" cannot hide the truly terrible Men's Movement agenda of My Life.
A burning pop culture question: why is it that sensitive heroes like Bob can only discover their feminine side by evacuating women from the picture altogether?
© Adrian Martin June 1994