Most marriages end in divorce. We’ve long since passed the 50% mark. Wonder why? At least a little of the blame has to go to movies like Imagine Me & You. Our culture glorifies unrealistic romantic expectations. That’s bad enough. But movies, books, and television shows like Imagine Me & You take that glorification to an entirely new level by actively endorsing a grass is greener approach to marital fidelity. Rather than rejecting the morally reprehensible idea that it’s acceptable to ditch your spouse the first time someone new catches your eye, we’re asked to embrace it.
That’s the basic premise behind Imagine Me & You, writer Ol Parker’s directorial debut. Though he changes things up a bit by throwing lesbianism into the mix, the sexual orientation and identity of the players involved in this story is basically irrelevant. Actually, that’s one of the refreshing things about the film. It doesn’t spend a lot of time slapping labels on its characters, or dwelling overmuch on which restroom they’re most likely to walk into. The people in Parker’s story are simply people, love can strike anywhere and whether it’s a woman and a woman, or a man and a woman, or a man and a man is merely a footnote in the romance that follows.
Rachel (Piper Perabo) and Heck (Matthew Goode) are getting married. They’ve been best friends for years and they’ve also fallen in love. Theirs is a romance built on mutual respect, friendship, deep understanding, and genuine affection. Heck is the perfect guy. Kind, reserved, handsome, funny, and caring he dotes on Rachel, he’s head over heels for her. Rachel is clearly in love with him too. She’s the wild one, she pulls him out of his shell, brings excitement into his life. They’re the perfect compliment to one another. But while walking down the aisle on her way to marry Heck, a woman, for a moment, catches Rachel’s eye. She sees her only for a brief second, but something explodes inside Rachel’s head. The woman’s name is Luce (Lena Heady), and lucky for Rachel (though perhaps no so lucky for Heck) she’s a lesbian.
It’s just a momentary glance, so Rachel (wisely) ignores her strange attraction to another woman and gets married anyway. Yet when the wedding’s finished she finds herself inviting Luce over for dinner. A few days later, though Rachel has never before been attracted to women and though till now she’s clearly been quite happy with men, they’ve both convinced themselves they’re utterly in love. You know, real love, the kind that happens only at first sight… as opposed to say the love she thought she felt for Heck, the kind that grew and deepened over time and was based on something more than a temporary, shallow, chemical reaction. Heck has no idea that his wife has recently rediscovered herself as a closet bi-sexual, but he does know something’s wrong and he’s desperate to understand her, to make her happy. Meanwhile, Rachel is confused, selfish, and lost. Will she stay with Heck or will she break her newly formed marriage vows, betray the man who two days ago she loved, throw away her years of happiness with Heck destroying him in the process, and run off with someone she met only last week? You’ve seen movies before, you can figure out what happens. Staying married is such a bore.
There is a way to make this premise work, but Parker’s script doesn’t find it. Heck is too sympathetic; in fact he’s the most likable character in the film. Imagine Me & You asks, no demands that you root for Rachel and Luce to get together, but the other characters in the story are so well drawn and so endearing that their romance is overshadowed by Rachel’s short-sighted, shallow-minded betrayal of Heck in favor of a sort of love that positively does not exist outside of Hollywood entertainment. For some, this will likely be no problem, assuming you place no value on marriage as a serious commitment and have perhaps yourself run off on a loving spouse in favor of some new flavor of the month.
Were Heck a brutish prick or an inattentive, self-absorbed husband, Rachel’s abandonment of him might be easier to swallow. Because otherwise Imagine Me & You is a fantastically well made film. Matthew Goode is wonderful as Heck, almost too good since you end up rooting for him instead of Perabo’s Rachel. But the rest of the characters are just as well acted in Parker’s beautifully shot, London themed pic. Parker captures the right mix of humor and sentiment to deliver something that is until Rachel’s final betrayal, involving, thoughtful, and even a little moving. But we needed a villain instead of a victim if the happy romance between Rachel and Luce is going to work. Without that, the cheerful music at the end is almost insulting. No one cares if Rachel and Luce kiss; we’re still thinking about Heck, alone in their apartment and sobbing.