Judge Jennifer Malkowski could imagine me and you...particularly if "you" happen to be one of the gorgeous girls in this movie.
Our review of Cinema Pride Collection, published July 7th, 2010, is also available.
A lesbian permutation of the standard romantic comedy formula, Imagine Me & You is better than most lesbian movies and most romantic comedies. The problem is that these two pretty much scrape the bottom of the genre barrel, as a rule.
Facts of the Case
Imagine Me & You opens with the London wedding of a British couple, Rachel (Piper Perabo) and the strangely named Heck (Matthew Goode). Rachel is gorgeous and sweet and Heck is…well, gorgeous and sweet. The main hint of trouble on the horizon is the sense that their romance lacks passion, as Rachel affirms in her toast: "They say fairy tales have happy endings even though the passage can be rough. But Heck and I were mates and then lovers and it's been smooth all the way. Maybe that's a better kind of fairy tale." Although, for those familiar with romantic comedy genre conventions, the main hints are probably that the wedding happens in the first 15 minutes of the movie and that there is a beautiful, lonely florist, Luce (Lena Headey), hovering around the ceremony who gets an awful lot of the camera's attention.
Meeting Luce at the wedding, Rachel feels an immediate connection to her that she mistakenly thinks is platonic. She invites her over for dinner and tries to fix her up with Heck's friend Cooper (Darren Boyd), a shameless womanizer. When Luce tells Heck that she's gay, Cooper's plans for an easy shag are foiled and Rachel realizes that her instant connection with Luce may not be about friendship, after all. Heck innocently encourages Rachel to spend more time with her new gal pal and soon the two women must decide whether to pursue "me and you" or suppress their feelings to preserve Rachel's marriage to this undeniably lovely man.
Lately I've noticed that every other review I write inevitably requires me to defend the film as specifically queer against vehement assertions that it is "universal" (Brokeback Mountain, Transamerica, yadda yadda yadda). For once, I don't feel obligated to take that position about this girl-meets-girl story that the cast and crew frame as "not a gay film." It is a gay film in the sense that it prominently features a same-sex romance, but there is really precious little about that romance that would be different if the two people involved were male and female. There are no politics, no prejudice, and no sex scenes, so the girl-on-girl aspect is basically incidental. Imagine Me & You begins with the assumption that in this day and age, gay relationships are not much different than straight relationships. Depending on whom you ask, that attitude can be taken as progressive or ignorant, but here, it works fine.
Of course, assimilation has its price. One part of that price is that gay people have to be immortalized in bland, cookie-cutter romantic comedies. Imagine Me & You is not quite as bad as all that, but it does employ plenty of the stale, irritating staples of that genre: the cute phrase that appears early on and comes back during a sappy finale, the adorable youngster who is wise beyond her years, the wacky, single best friend, and, of course, the obligatory romantic chase scene. As worn out as they are, I have to admit that most of these elements are well executed. As wacky-single-best-friend, Coop gets off some good lines. Also, Boo Jackson is truly adorable as adorable-youngster-wise-beyond-her-years H—although she is poorly scripted as also being the kid who asks annoying questions like "Do penguins have knees?"
In fact, most of the cast is quite good. Native New Jersey girl Perabo—who has played gay before in Lost and Delirious—seamlessly adopts her character's British accent and manages to preserve her cute-and-vulnerable charm even as she is betraying her husband. Goode is almost too good at being the nice guy who gets hurt, threatening to pull viewers over to his side of the love triangle. The great thing about his character is that he is not the obvious jerk who makes us question why the protagonist would be with him at all. Instead, the script and Goode almost take that asset too far, making the audience root for him instead of Luce. Headey admirably tackles that role, playing the would-be predatory lesbian who goes after a straight, married woman as eminently sympathetic—helped along by a script that tries hard not to portray her as that kind of stereotypical villain. The main job all three of these actors have is to be beautiful and likable, and indeed they all are.
The cast is rounded out by some excellent supporting players, including the aforementioned Boo Jackson and Buffy alum Anthony Head, who plays Rachel's father, Ned. He gets some good laughs as an endearing drunkard (at least, I think he was drunk) whose wry, inappropriate comments continually embarrass his wife. On the drive to the wedding with his daughter, Head dryly delivers the following speech about his own wedding day as an almost off-hand remark: "I remember all the way to the church, I just wanted to shout, 'Stop the car, this is a horrible mistake.' But you can't, can you? So you just sit there and say nothing as the wheels keep turning." The comic look of deadness in his eyes and his brilliant timing make moments like this a real treat. Celia Imrie, as his wife, provides a few good laughs, too, particularly when Rachel tells her that the other person she has feelings for is a woman. With the body language and tone of a typical upper-crust British mother, she responds, "So the two of you are lesbi-friends?" These fun moments are tempered, however, by an equal number of unbelievably clichéd lines these actors are forced to utter, including Ned's nauseatingly overused advice to Rachel: "follow your heart."
Although it is not all that it could be as a movie about "lesbi-friends," I do appreciate the attempt. It's not that often that we get to see happy, likeable queer women on screen in stories that do not end tragically. Imagine Me & You provides that pleasure—although it could have been a little less chaste considering its R rating (supposedly given for the number of f-words). While I was watching, though, I couldn't help but remember the smarter, more complex Kissing Jessica Stein—a vastly underrated little film from a few years back that queer audiences largely rejected for superficial reasons [SPOILER ALERT], namely that one of the two women realizes that she is not actually gay and ends up with a man. Admittedly, that plot point has been a thorn in the side of queer audiences for a long time, but it is so sweetly lamented and intelligently thought through in the context of the story that it makes me respect the movie even more. Plus, the other woman finds a new girlfriend and lives happily ever after. Stein took the approach of being a flagrantly queer movie while thinking through issues of sexuality from a straight woman's perspective. Imagine is patently uninterested in thinking through issues of sexuality—and even in "thinking" itself, for that matter—opting for high emotion and big, showy gender-non-specific romance instead. Both approaches are valid and necessary, but Stein's elevates it to the level of a memorable, thought-provoking little gem while Imagine's dooms it to mainstream obscurity, quickly enjoyed and quickly forgotten.
If there is one thing that writer/director Ol Parker does really right, it's making London look appropriately gorgeous. The DVD transfer preserves that beauty nicely, best appreciated in the widescreen version. From the soft, warm lighting at the wedding reception to the bright pockets of sunlight among roses that the women kiss in, everything is rendered nicely. The sound is less appealing than the picture, starting with a score that alternates between being sweetly romantic and over-the-top gushy. American audiences will have trouble with the Brit-speak—not helped by the somewhat muddy sound quality—particularly from Goode, who speaks quickly with a thick accent.
The extras are fairly extensive for the genre, split over the two sides of this double-sided widescreen/full-screen disc. The unusual "personal statement" is a brief, poetic speech by Parker—accompanied by scenes from the film—about love at first sight, how he met his wife, and how his feelings about love influenced his script. As gag-inducing as that sounds, it's actually kind of cute. The four deleted scenes fill in some holes in the plot, but apparently were cut to keep the pace moving. They appear not to be color-corrected, looking much less lush and brilliant than the film itself. The question and answer session features 17 minutes of three separate interviews with Parker, Perabo, and Headey together, and Goode. They are a little dull, but I laughed out loud when the first very matter-of-fact question from the interviewer to the two women was, "Did you guys want to have more sex in the film?" Parker is apparently gunning for a spot in The Onion's wonderful "Commentary Tracks of the Damned" section based on how embarrassed and critical he is in his commentary. Grading himself "shockingly low" as a director, he points out every poor camera angle and ill-conceived plot point. He bizarrely claims that it was fun making Perabo look "less attractive" and admits that he chose the flower shop shooting location because it was close to his flat and he wanted to be able to walk to work. He sums it all up at the end by remarking, "Whatever. I did the best I could."
Imagine Me & You is well worth a look for romantic comedy lovers, Anglophiles, Buffy fans following Anthony Head, and lesbians like me who like to see pretty girls kissing. Still, those looking for an exploration of the murky divisions between friendship, sex, and love among women, that is mature, nuanced, witty, and fun should rent Kissing Jessica Stein instead.
Judge Jennifer Malkowski exonerates this fluffy film because of its somewhat successful attempt to combine and liven up two sorry genres.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Writer/Director Ol Parker
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