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Life is very, very sad. And life is very, very zany, too. Any world in which a charming 23-year-old woman with two adorable young daughters suddenly learns that she has terminal cancer is too heartbreaking to endure. And any world in which someone would release an album of rock songs mutilated by a ’70s high-school music class is wacky beyond belief. These are the extremes writer-director (and camera operator) Isabel Coixet tries to balance in My Life Without Me, and sometimes she actually succeeds. But in attempting to undercut the inherent Terms of Endearment-ness of her scenario with improbable developments, geeky supporting characters, and the Langley Schools Music Project’s godawful version of “God Only Knows,” the director often fails to convince. Pink-collar mom Ann (Sarah Polley living in a trailer? Really?) is the young woman who’s about to die, something she won’t tell her sweet but underemployed husband, Don (Scott Speedman), sour-natured mother (Debbie Harry), imprisoned father (Alfred Molina), or kids. Rather than concentrating on death, Ann decides to plan for her family’s future—she records greetings for the girls’ next 14 birthdays—and to live a little. Married at 17, Ann’s never kissed anyone but Don, so she undertakes to have an affair. Of course, the guy Ann meets at the all-night laundromat, Lee (Mark Ruffalo), is just the sensitive, bookish lover she needs. (He slips her his phone number in a copy of Middlemarch, no less.) Before Ann dies—that is, before the screen goes white, avoiding all the messiness of what happens to her family, friends, and lover when she unexpectedly expires—she may even have identified Don’s next wife for him. As tidy as its unidentified location (Canada, of course), My Life Without Me teaches us to treasure a sultry song, a great piece of hard candy, and the people you meet who are obsessed with dieting or Milli Vanilli. Coixet’s dry, elliptical style actually keeps sentimentality at bay, but the movie fails to persuade that anyone would prepare for death this way—or that anybody still cares about Milli Vanilli. —Mark Jenkins