Endearing Formula

Except for its Sapphic twist, 'Imagine Me and You' is a by-the-book romantic comedy

Some day, movies with gay themes will be so common that no one will have to write a series of increasingly inaccurate op-ed pieces about how such movies won't make money or play in the heartlands. When that day comes, romantic comedies will be divisible into 64 distinct types: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl; girl meets girl, girl loses girl, girl gets girl; couple meets couple, couple loses couple, couple gets girl; George meets Laura, George becomes "dry drunk," George gets country; etc.

Well, that day is finally here with Imagine Me and You, which is in every respect a standard, formulaic romantic comedy, with the Sapphic twist of hot girl-on-girl cuddling.

Which is not to say that Imagine Me and You is bad. It's actually a decent specimen of the romantic-comedy genre. It eschews the "love your stalker" message of many American romantic comedies, and though it starts out weakly, its script is occasionally witty, and the performances are endearing. Just don't expect any high-art cinema or thought-provoking social commentary or national controversy or sheep herding.

Piper Perabo, who's so pretty that roses weep when they look at her, stars as Rachel, a young Englishwoman. The film starts on Rachel's wedding day, where, strangely enough, she's about to marry the chinless Heck (Matthew Goode). It turns out that Heck has been her best friend since forever. They're BFF! But what neither Heck nor Rachel seems to know is that sexually, Rachel prefers the trough to the plough.

Somehow, though, Luce (Lena Headey), the florist at Rachel's wedding, figures this out, and just by looking at Rachel in that special lesbian way, she sends girl-love signals into Rachel's head that cause her to rent lady-love porn movies and think about eating more muffins and fewer mushrooms.

In spite of this little twist on the old romantic-comedy theme, the most salient feature of Imagine Me and You is how very ordinary it is. The supporting cast includes a precocious little girl, some nagging parents and a rakish friend. There's lots of contemporary indie-emo music to set the mood, and there's the obligatory scene where Luce teaches Rachel a lesson about how to make herself heard. Pretty much every set piece is in place, and this would be the world's most standard romantic comedy if it weren't for the fact that everyone in it is reasonably nice and human, and nobody poses as a Middle Eastern sheik in order to get a date to the prom.

The niceness of the main characters does set Imagine Me and You apart. This film has the standard "torn between two lovers" plot, and that usually means that one of the two lovers will turn out to be a jerk. You can usually tell the jerk because he/she is better-looking than the other lover, and probably has more money. In the end, the jerk shows him/herself to be a jerk, and Molly Ringwald dumps him/her for the nicer, poorer, superficially less-attractive other lover. But in Imagine Me and You, everyone's pretty nice. You'd think that would lessen the dramatic effect, but actually, it enhances it, since getting rid of a jerk, while dramatically satisfying, isn't as tense as the problem of getting rid of someone who's very huggable.

And Matthew Goode is great at being huggable. Plus, he has a very dry delivery that works well with the script's English wit. Lena Headey is also good here, though not in a comedic way. She has a natural intensity that establishes something you don't often see in romantic comedies: She actually feels bad about the prospect of breaking up a couple.

Piper Perabo is also probably good. I have no idea. She's so pretty that she made Fred Phelps consider getting a sex change just so he could become her lesbian lover. Looking at her is like looking at one of those hypno-wheels that evil carnies carry in old B-movies. Next time there's a riot, the police should beam in a picture of Piper Perabo, and everyone will stop fighting and just go "aaaaah."

The only other oddity of this film is in the shooting style. It's shot by Ben Davis, who also lensed Layer Cake, but Imagine Me and You has none of the glitz of that film. Instead, everything is dim and muddy, and all the outdoor scenes occur on cloudy days. This contrasts sharply with the standard, bright, flatly lit American romantic comedy, but it also gives the film a 1970s TV-movie style, like in that ABC afterschool special Rachel Wants Comfortable Shoes.

In the end, Imagine Me and You becomes even more formulaic, and the final sequences could have been culled from just about any Meg Ryan movie. Still, there's a reason these formulas became formulas, and that's because when they're done well, they do work. Here, they're done well enough to be reasonably amusing, but not so well that we'll be using the film's title as a synonym for "gay cowboy."

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