In the constant barrage of releases, it’s easy for certain movies to remain under the radar despite how impressive they are. Me Without You is such a film.
Released in the fall of 2001, Me Without You follows the lives of two British friends who have known each other since they were children. Our introduction to Holly (Michelle Williams) and Marina (Anna Friel) begins in 1973. Carefree and as of yet unmarred by the complications of female jealousy, Holly and Marina begin to feel a strain on their friendship when it becomes clearer that Marina is viewed as “the attractive one.”
After the viewer’s brief acquaintance to what will become a longstanding love triangle between Holly, Marina and Nat (Oliver Milburn), Marina’s older brother, the story flashes forward to 1978, placing both girls around 17 years old. The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” plays as a reinvented Holly and Marina, both with dark brown hair and punk garb, lay side by side staring at the ceiling. The ennui of youth is more than apparent as they practice who can spit the furthest and dance on Marina’s bed to “White Riot” by The Clash. Marina ponders the sad state of their existence as they share a cigarette and float around on rafts in Marina’s pool, noting that even her mother, Linda (Trudie Styler), goes to key parties.
The chance for losing their virginity, experimenting with drugs, and meeting The Clash presents itself unexpectedly when Marina finds out that Oliver’s girlfriend, Carolyn, who also allegedly knows Mick Jones, is having a party over the weekend. Marina jumps at the chance to crash the party so that she and Holly can finally have as great of a time as everyone else seems to be having. Dressed to the nines in trash bag dresses and mime-like makeup, Holly and Marina go to the “party” only to find that it consists of two guys, Nat and Carolyn. Irritated by the duo’s uninvited entrance, Carolyn leaves, giving Holly the chance to spend some time alone with Nat.
Off in the background, Marina seizes the opportunity to shoot up heroin. Later on, while she vomits in the bathroom, Holly capitalizes on her moment of privacy with Nat and loses her virginity to him. Unbeknownst to Holly or Nat, Marina sees the two of them together after returning from the bathroom. She stifles her anger and retaliates by losing her own virginity to the random guy who furnished her with the heroin. As Holly and Marina walk back to their houses from the party, they get in a fight over what Marina perceives as Holly’s betrayal. Once Nat leaves on vacation with Carolyn, Holly gives in to making amends with Marina and the screen starts to fade out as the film uses Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Cutter” to transition to 1982.
While both friends date their professor, Daniel (Kyle MacLachlan), without knowing that the other is dating him, Nat reappears onto the scene after having a squabble with his latest girlfriend, Isabel (Marianne Denicourt). Upon seeing Holly again, it is evident that all the old feelings are still there. Holly cancels her date with Daniel that night so that she can spend time with Nat, even if the time has to be shared with Marina. The next morning, after having slept together again, Nat and Holly both agree that she should break up with Daniel so they can finally give their relationship a chance. At first, Holly has no qualms with the decision, until she sees Marina leaving Daniel’s house. In an anxiety-ridden panic, Holly goes back to Nat to tell him what she saw. Nat is deeply hurt by Holly’s reaction, assuming she still has an interest in Daniel merely because Marina does. This lays the groundwork for the consistent pattern of Holly and Marina getting angry at each other over Nat and then making up again when Holly realizes Nat will always go back to the other girl he is with. There proves to be no exception to this pattern when Nat and Isabel announce that they are engaged on New Year’s Eve. Holly resigns herself to accepting that she’ll always have to let Marina back in as Marina asserts, “I don’t know who I am when we’re not us,” to which Holly responds, “I don’t know ever.”
The crux of Me Without You is how toxic a friendship can become when one friend refuses to let the other grow or change. By 1989, sickly dependent on always having Holly in her life, Marina goes so far as to marry a Jewish doctor that Holly (also Jewish) introduced to her. Adding insult to injury, Marina announces she is converting to Judaism, saying, “It will give me a sense of identity.” Holly retorts, “Yes, but whose identity?” It is not until the film’s conclusion that Holly is finally able to stand her ground and separate herself from Marina, even after Marina pleads, “You can’t leave me. There’s no me without you.”
In addition to the sageness of the film’s overarching theme of unhealthy co-dependence, it is also an astonishing feat whenever a movie employs music that is both relevant to the time during which it is set and also, shall we say, listenable. Particularly for a film with such a modest budget, Goldbacher was able to secure the rights to some of the best songs of each era. The Clash, Wreckless Eric, Depeche Mode, and Adam Ant are all highly important in conveying a certain tone for the film’s time-traveling segments. Even when the film advances to 2001, “(Drawing) Rings Around the World” by Super Furry Animals is incorporated. Addressing the popular culture of the time period also occurs visually; for instance, Holly has a poster of the Horses album by Patti Smith during 1978 and the house that Marina and Holly live in during the 1982 segment has a poster of Joy Division. In many respects, the music of Me Without You is a main character of its own, punctuating that “stuck,” restless feeling Holly seems to be feeling all the time when she’s with Marina.