Imagine this: You’re watching the conclusion of Sleepless in Seattle, and Sam (Tom Hanks) and Annie (Meg Ryan) are finally about to meet at the top of the Empire State Building. It’s the moment the entire film has been leading up to, but you just can’t seem to enjoy it. You keep thinking about Walter (Bill Pullman), you know, the other guy, the one Annie dumped in favor of Sam. This is the dynamic set in place by Imagine Me & You, a love story about two women in which the most engaging character is the straight guy who just got thrown over.
In Imagine Me & You, writer/director Ol Parker attempts to capture the instantaneous “click” (the movie’s original title) of love at first sight between Luce (Lena Headey), a beautiful gay florist, and Rachel (Piper Perabo), a newlywed who has just married her longtime beau, Heck (Matthew Goode). On the DVD’s audio commentary, Parker explains that he initially planned on having Rachel fall for a man, but that halfway through completing his script, he realized that he was writing a romance about a same-sex couple. He was not seeking to create a “politicized coming-out story”; rather he believed the lesbian angle put a dramatic new spin on an age-old love triangle. Can heretofore-straight Rachel summon up the courage to leave her marriage and pursue feelings of true love for another woman?
When Imagine Me & You was released in theaters, some critics complained that the film’s depiction of lesbian romance was too chaste (Luce and Rachel share only two onscreen kisses). Filmsinreview.com argued, “A gay love story has to deliver the longing, the hunger, and the goods,” while Variety predicted that “gay and lesbian viewers will find the girl-on-girl action far too tame.” Notably, many romantic comedies about straight characters are fairly chaste — Ryan and Hanks didn’t exactly burn up the screen in Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail for that matter — but these hetero-themed films aren’t faulted for their absence of heat or skin. These criticisms of Imagine Me & You seem to be based on the assumption that homosexual characters and audiences care primarily about sex, not love, and that gay relationships — especially those between women — should be framed in a way to titillate viewers, rather than move them.
For Parker, Luce and Rachel’s mutual attraction exists outside of sexual categories. “It’s not about gender,” he claims. “It’s about the person within.” The union of soul mates is an ideal usually reserved for straight couples in romance films; in the representation of a same-sex relationship, the almost-quaint idea seems progressive because it imagines homosexual love as something other than a “hunger” or a hormonal surge. The tricky part for any filmmaker is figuring out how to convey such an abstract notion of love in specific and convincing ways. Sadly, these are the goods that Parker really fails to deliver. Though his attempt is clearly heartfelt, he doesn’t quite meet the challenge set up by his film’s premise.
The problem is two-fold. First, Parker does not develop the Luce and Rachel characters enough for them to register as distinctive people in their own right, much less as a couple that is destined to be together. Though we do see scenes of Luce in her flower shop, they primarily serve as comic vignettes to showcase wacky customers, like the 30-something guy who’s looking for his “last-chance flower” (he picks a cactus) and the sobbing pregnant woman who literally latches onto Luce and won’t let go. (And though I’ve seen the movie more than once, I still have no idea how Rachel makes a living — she is shown at an office computer, doing . . . something.)
In his Director’s Statement on the DVD, Parker says, “The paradox of love at first sight — what differentiates it from lust or confusion — is that it proves itself by continuing to exist”. Unfortunately, he doesn’t devote enough time to Luce and Rachel’s burgeoning romance to prove itself in that way. Indeed, precious time is wasted on “whimsical” side characters (a desperate maid of honor, lecherous best man, precocious child, and bickering in-laws), who interrupt the momentum of the love story and make it difficult for the audience to feel swept away by Luce and Rachel’s romance.
Perhaps more damaging is that the most sympathetic and finely drawn character in the film is Heck, the doomed third member of the romantic triangle. Speaking of Heck (whom he dubs “the Bill Pullman” character) on the audio commentary, Parker explains, “We have all left people who are fantastic — they just weren’t the right people for us.” And Heck is fantastic, there is no doubt about that: played by the disarming Matthew Goode, he is charming, witty, neurotic, and kind. We are informed of his hopes (shaking off his shady financial job to become a globetrotting travel writer), his fears (public speaking, heights, and losing Rachel), and his flaws (he’s a terrible cook, but that doesn’t stop him from throwing dinner parties or concocting berry-and-cream trifles). Furthermore, he is noble to the point of saintliness: when he learns of Rachel’s feelings for Luce, he steps aside despite his misery. In the film’s most poignant scene, he explains to Rachel, “I want you to be happy, but more than anything, I wanted to be the cause of happiness in you. But if I’m not, then I can’t stand in the way. What you’re feeling, Rachel, is the unstoppable force, which means that I’ve got to move.”
Eventually Heck’s grief gets the best of him, and when he lets go and cries with the abandon of an 8-year-old girl, he does so in front of an actual 8-year-old girl: Rachel’s younger sister (Boo Jackson), who offers to marry him in 10 years. (Say it with me: “Awww!”) That Heck’s heartbreak is the most resonant aspect of the film may make Imagine Me & You more effective as a male weepie than as a romantic comedy. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — in truth, it’s actually quite refreshing — but it sure does drain the piss out of Luce and Rachel’s final embrace.
Imagine Me & You – Trailer