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Imagine Me & You

Imagine a By-The-Numbers Romantic Comedy

Romantic comedies depend on an easily recognizable formula for their success. In most cases, the central characters in romantic comedies are unable or incapable of acting on their romantic feelings, due to social, cultural, personal or racial obstacles. In other cases, misconceptions or misunderstandings lead the potential lovers to take an instant dislike to each other. Before the inevitable consummation, the lovers have to work through objections from families and friends. The conventions of the romantic comedy genre dictate that complications and reversals, while difficult, are never impossible to overcome, with the lovers duly bonded in monogamous bliss moments before the end credits roll.

Written and directed by Ol Parker, Imagine Me & You belongs to the subset of romantic comedies that centers on a romantic triangle. At their core, romantic comedies depend on the inherent likeability of the central characters and their circumstances (and no more so when infidelity is involved). One way to make the final choice more palatable to audiences is to depict the third party negatively, making him or her easy to dislike and root against. The potential lovers may go through periodic self-examination, but ultimately obligations, doubts, and uncertainties give way to the demands of romantic love, regardless of the consequences.

On Heck (Matthew Goode) and Rachel's (Piper Perabo) wedding day, Rachel makes eye contact with the florist, Luce (Lena Headey). Taking an instant liking to each other at the reception, the women become friends. Heck's horndog friend, Coop (Darren Boyd), crudely expresses interest in Luce, only to discover at a dinner party that Luce is a lesbian. Heck thinks nothing of his wife's increasing closeness to Rachel, not even when her behavior noticeably cools toward him just days and weeks after their marriage.

As Imagine Me & You unfolds, Heck becomes concerned about his wife's eccentric behavior, Rachel develops romantic feelings toward Luce, and Luce struggles with the impact a romantic relationship with Rachel will have on everyone concerned. Imagine Me & You also throws in a minor diversion involving Luce's reclusive, chronically depressed mother, Ella (Sue Johnston) whom Luce is determined to help, and Heck's frustrations at work (he's a stockbroker).

Viewers even vaguely familiar with the predictable plotting of romantic comedies will know where, and with whom, the characters end up. All the obligatory scenes are there, from the initial heart-to-heart talks between Rachel and Luce that suggests they're soul mates to Luce and her mother discussing romantic love (insert "follow your heart" line here). We've all seen such scenes, and not surprisingly, it suggests that Parker studied romantic comedies closely before embarking on making his own.

However, Parker makes Rachel minimally sympathetic. Setting Imagine Me & You on Rachel's wedding day (as opposed to, for example, the month before her marriage) is a large part of the problem. Knowing nothing about Rachel before her marriage, viewers are expected to uncritically accept that Rachel is either unaware of her sexual orientation (Imagine Me & You is set in repressed London, after all) or magically made aware of her "true" orientation when she meets the Luce for the first time. Having Rachel and Luce's relationship develop post-marriage makes it difficult to sympathize with Rachel's dilemma, especially when Parker makes Heck a likeable, if slightly clueless, character. Heck behaves impeccably, showing nothing of the negativity or spitefulness necessary for viewers to shift their sympathies, even if only slightly, toward Rachel and Luce.

Despite the problematic premise and the formulaic storyline, Parker shows a keen ear for humorous dialogue, especially in the scenes featuring the abrasive, vulgar Coop and Rachel's combative parents, Ned (Anthony Head) and Tessa (Celia Imrie). Parker also deserves credit for eliciting warm, grounded performances from most of his cast, including Piper Perabo, an American actress affecting a British accent. While her accent is credible, her somewhat limited expressivity makes Rachel even more difficult to like (a better written role, however, would have helped). Still, Perabo is better here than in her performances (including last year's forgettable sci-fi/horror/action flick, The Cave, where she shared screen time with Lena Headey as well). Perabo’s performance suggests that Parker closely collaborated with her.

Ultimately, Imagine Me & You sinks under the weight of unsympathetic characters, familiar, formulaic plot convolutions, and uncritical acceptance of the themes inherent in the genre, to wit, that finding and accepting an idealized "true love" takes paramount importance over everything else, including the emotional consequences to the third person in the romantic triangle.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars