A film review by Craig J. Koban

IMAGINE ME AND YOU jjj

2006, R, 93 mins.

Rachel: Piper Perabo / Luce: Lena Headey / Heck: Matthew Goode / Tessa: Celia Imrie / Ned: Anthony Head / Coop: Darren Boyd / Beth: Sharon Horgan

Written and directed by Ol Parker

"You make me feel something I absolutely cannot feel."
Rachel (Piper Perabo) in IMAGINE ME AND YOU

The new British comedy, IMAGINE ME AND YOU, opens with one of the most peculiar meet cutes of recent movie memory.   This is a romance where a woman meets and discovers the love of her life during – of all things – her very wedding day.  For Rachel (Piper Perabo), it should be the happiest day of her life.  Unfortunately, fate can deal up a strange set of cards. 

As Rachel is walking down the isle, mere moments away from saying “I do”, she catches a glimpse of a local florist named Luce (Lena Headey).  The two exchange a glance that last seconds, and to many an observer the moment could be considered fleeting and non-consequential.  To the two women, however, the kinetic energy they shared at that instance was powerful.  They both fall hopelessly in love with each other right then and there, even when they know they should not. 

IMAGINE ME AND YOU – without giving away anything – is a lesbian romantic comedy, but it follows most of the cardinal conventions of a standard genre picture so stridently that the film could have very easily been a hetero-romantic pictureAnyone expecting the more melancholic, emotionally tortured, and introverted homosexuals that were presented in, say, the great BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN may be deluding themselves.  IMAGINE ME AND YOU is a much more rosy, happy-go-lucky farce that only the madcap sensibilities of the Brits could dream up.  It's fairly droll, witty, and light as a feather. 

The two lesbian lovers in the film are sort of like the two doomed gay men in Ang Lee’s film.  Luce is a lesbian and knows it and Rachel is a hopelessly closeted lesbian, somewhat like Heath Ledger’s and Jake Gylennhaal’s characters respectively.  Yet, IMAGINE ME AND YOU is set in current times when more people (but not all, mind you) have grown increasingly accepting and tolerant of gay unions.  BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN was set decades ago when gay marriage was the closest thing to suicide.  IMAGINE ME AND YOU is decidedly more positive in terms of tone and mood.  Society does not hold the two lovers apart in this film; rather, it’s merely circumstance that is the prime obstacle. 

Rachel - despite her inner feelings towards this woman that she has only locked eyes with for mere seconds - decides to go ahead with her marriage to Heck (Matthew Goode, who is making a career out of playing men that marry the wrong woman; he was also in MATCH POINT).  Heck is a nice, decent chap and would make any woman happy for life.  The two finish their wedding and settle down into their new flat in London.  For a little while, at least, both Rachel and Hect seem content.  Yet, Rachel seems to keep thinking about that women she saw at her wedding. 

At this point, Rachel thinks that she is perfectly, one hundred per cent straight, so straight that she decides to visit Luce at her flower shop one day and invite her over for supper.  Her awkwardness during the invite would make anyone suspicious of her true intentions, but never mind.  Needless to say, Luce readily accepts, without having known that Rachel actually wishes to set her up with a single friend of theirs named Coop (the very funny Darren Boyd).  You see, Rachel has no clue that Luce is a lesbian.  Perhaps by inviting her over and trying to get her and Coop together is Rachel's way of dealing with her own possible feelings of lesbian attraction?  Hmmmm....

The four of them have a nice evening of wine, dinner, and discussion on many things, the nature of love being one of them.  Rachel, at one point, seems to think that love at first sight is a myth.  Luce, of course, retorts to the contrary.  “I think you know immediately,” she explains, “as soon as your eyes meet.  Then everything that happens from then on just proves that you have been right in that first moment.  When you suddenly realize that you were incomplete and now you are whole.”   This seems to intrigue Rachel.  She becomes even more intrigued when she discovers that Luce is actually a lesbian. 

Through a series of circumstances, the two women fall predictably in love with one another, even if they are unwilling to acknowledge it at first.  The main obstacle is Rachel’s overwhelming inability to accept the fact that she's unavoidably gay.  There is an undeniable spark that ignites when she’s around Luce.  She loves her husband and knows that marrying him might have been out of haste, but leaving him would crush him.  She does tries to deal with her lustful gay thoughts.  In one of the film’s funnier scenes, she rents a lesbian porn film “for research purposes.”  The hapless Rachel fails to learn that porn is never the appropriate answer to any of life's questions.

Her research is futile.  She loves Luce and putting on a vast and elaborate charade of “being just friends” is too much to handled.  With Heck growing more emotionally distant by the day, Rachel soon realizes that she needs to deal with her true self sooner as apposed to later and decide – once and for all – whom she wants to spend the rest of her life with.  Without spoiling anything, the film concludes as one would expect - in a remarkably happy and positive manner for all parties considered and everyone lives happily ever after.  If only life could be so easy. 

Yet, despite the film’s utter obviousness and inescapable conclusion, IMAGINE ME AND YOU never attempts to be a daring expose of the nature of troubled lesbian relationships in modern society.  The film is not gritty, grim, or somber like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, nor is it filled with nihilistic and beleaguered personas that border of being fatalist.  No, this is a romantic comedy and - on some basic levels - it succeeds with reaching the status quo for the genre.  It introduces us to congenial characters, gives us a very basic setup, and works modestly to garner our sympathy for the lovers and their situation.  The key ingredient in these types of films (whether hetero or not) is whether (a) I liked the lovers and (b) the film made me yearn to see them together.  For that, IMAGINE ME AND YOU is an understated success. 

The key here is in the performances, and the film is filled with many good ones.  I think that Matthew Goode (a decent actor who is getting better) has the trickiest role in the film as the husband who only wants what’s best for his wife.  Sure, he seems to take the events of the film and revelation of his wife’s true leanings a bit too easily, but he at least is presented as an understanding and empathetic figure.  He is not a cruel lout that grows to despise Rachel.  “You know I want you to be happy," he tells her at one key point, “and more than anything, I wanted to be the cause of happiness in you.”  Yes, he would rather not have married a lesbian at the risk of wounding his emotions for the long run, but he realizes why a relationship with Rachel will never, ever work.  In one of the film’s best scenes he has a small, but poignant, rooftop discussion with her baby sister (the delightful Sharon Horgan) where he reveals his pain and hope for the future. 

A few other characters are also wonderful creations.  There are Rachel’s parents (played in very funny performances by Celia Imrie and Anthony Head) that are suitably wacky and sarcastically hilarious for this type of British farce.  The two seem to take Rachel’s coming out with an amazing grain of salt (no parent, I think, would be as instantly accepting as they are of their child’s reveal of their sexual tastes), but the two are caring and supportive figures, even when they bicker at each other mercilessly.  My favourite exchange has the wife lash out at her husband (during one argument), “This man's as useless as a fart in a jam jar.” 

And then there are the two lesbian lovers themselves.  Lena Headey (who looks like she could be Keira Knightley’s older sister) creates a well-nuanced figure in Luce.  She is not a character that is obsessed with the thought of a life with Rachel in some twisted manner.  She knows that breaking up a marriage is the wrong thing to do, but then again, so is seeing a women like Rachel living a lie.  Despite the fact that she is the ultimate catalyst in bringing out Rachel’s lesbianism to the forefront (which leads to the collapse of her marriage), Luce remains a remarkably sincere, honest, likeable, and sympathetic figure in her own right. 

I will let you in on something – I have a serious thing for Piper Perabo.  She seems to defy the very physics of sweetness and adorability.  She is an actress with the type of undying luminosity and endless beauty that captivates minds whenever she displays that winning smile of hers.   Falling for her is remarkably easy, as it was with her breakout performance in 2000’s Jerry Bruckheimer produced, FLASHDANCE-wannabe COYOTE UGLY.  That role did not demand much more than her strutting her stuff while looking unimaginably attractive, but she infused in the otherwise lackluster film an earnest pluck and likeable charm.  She could have done just about anything following UGLY, so it was a bit of a surprise when she took the role of a jilted and troubled lesbian (what a coincidence) in 2001’s very underrated, low budget indie LOST AND DELIRIOUS.  In what remains her best work (and one of the best least seen performances of that year) she carried the film (a BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN with dorm room school girls) as a lesbian that gets involved in a rather tortuous relationship with another young girl.   

Perabo is a very good actress beyond what her beautiful face lets on.  She has looks and ability.  Her lesbian role in IMAGINE ME AND YOU is of an outright different tone than that of LOST AND DELIRIOUS, but she imparts in her part a warm naturalness.  She plays the duplicitous role authentically enough (she pulls a Renee Zellewegger here by playing a role with a British accent and – for the most part – her UK dialect is pretty flawless) and does a commendable job of giving the film an emotional epicenter.  Our first instinct is to perhaps loathe this woman for leading on her husband, but as the film progresses we realize that her real problem is her lack of self-actualization.  She’s a lesbian, but she fails to acknowledge it.  She tries everything in her power to make her marriage work, but deep down she knows it to be impossible.  In Perabo’s hands, Rachel comes across as a decent-minded, yet sad, person and this gives the film a much-needed layer for our buy-in. 

For what it’s worth, IMAGINE ME AND YOU is a breezy and oftentimes funny, touching, and moderately entertaining British comedy about a couple of star crossed lesbian lovers.  It’s formulaic, pedestrian with its story, and has the markings of the romantic comedy genre written all over its face.  It's also not the dreary and tragic tale of homosexual love that was the cornerstone of similar films like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and LOST AND DELIRIOUS.  Yet, the film succeeds as a funny and well-intended romp that is filled with agreeable characters and a set of lovers that we want to see together, for better or worse.  On these levels, IMAGINE ME AND YOU is not thought-provoking, challenging, or complex in any way, nor is it risqué or as sexually charged as you may think (it’s inappropriately rated R, not for hardcore lesbian sex, but for a few usages of the F-bomb).  It’s an unequivocally saccharine exploration into love and yearning.  Sure, its sentiments and story feels forced and contrived, but it shoots par for the course for the type of film it wants to be. 

Oh, and did I mention I have a serious thing for Piper Perabo?

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