Imagine Me & You asks you to imagine this: that an all-consuming, ’til-death-do-us-part love affair gets under way in even less time than it takes the Brokeback Mountain ’boys to get it on. And just like Ang Lee’s movie, Ol Parker’s debut feature doesn’t really show us the sparks of its homosexual couple’s attraction; we’re just supposed to buy that they’re there. Brokeback, granted, is in an altogether different cinematic universe than Imagine, but audiences weary of lap-dogging Oscar contenders might find a scrappy little Britflick to be just the thing at this hype-laden time of year. Or they might just like seeing a couple of pretty lesbians make out.
Imagine Me & You has a sillier premise than your average post–Four Weddings and a Funeral comedy—and surprisingly, it’s not that Piper Perabo can do an English accent. Rather, it’s that Perabo’s kittenish character, Rachel, could be walking down the aisle with the handsome man who’s been her BFF, Heck (Match Point’s Matthew Goode), lock eyes with Luce (Lena Headey), and start playing for the other team. Luce is the wedding’s florist—who somehow never had to interact with the bride—and both women do double- and triple-takes. Rachel goes through with the ceremony (the setup’s not that ridiculous) and continues her pleasant life with Heck. Only she invites Luce over for dinner, on the grounds that she’d make a good match for Heck’s horndog friend, Coop (Darren Boyd).
Soon enough, Rachel finds out that Luce is gay. From there on in, Rachel is glum around but still loving to Heck as she wrestles with the questions of sexuality and self-identity posed by her instant attraction to the femme florist. Or at least we can assume that’s what she’s doing when she begins paying decreasingly innocent visits to Luce’s shop. This is a romantic comedy, after all.
Appropriately, Parker’s script is full of Wacky British-Romantic-Comedy Humor: the running gag about people who expect Luce to put together bouquets that send ridiculously nuanced messages (“I want it to say I’m sorry his dog is dead, but not too sorry”), the fun poked at British mannerliness (Rachel and Heck stop at a park for a nighttime quickie, run into another like-minded couple—and introduce themselves). It’s all frothy and funny, as it should be. Ironically, though, the women are the least enjoyable part of this chick/chick flick (whose musical namesake is, of course, played during the supposed-to-be-triumphant last chapter). The best quips go to Coop, with Boyd angling to be the shameless, skirt-chasing Hugh Grant, and Heck, with Goode making like the charming, lovable Hugh Grant.
Not that the female leads don’t do a good job. Perabo is endearing as the frazzled, slightly goofy Rachel, and Headey makes Luce more level-headed and composed but never stiff. Parker gives his musings on life and love—to thine own self be true, basically—another layer of depth through the women’s parents: Luce’s widowed and reluctant-to-date mother (Sue Johnston) and Rachel’s bickering mum and dad (the terrific Celia Imrie and Anthony Head). The older folks’ stories, in fact, are more insightful and touching than the film’s main one. The latter even punctures the kind of romantic fantasies the film’s central relationship traffics in. Alas, that coupling falls victim to a typical cinematic flaw: resolutions that are too neat, quick, and far-fetched. It’s disappointing that Imagine Me & You’s wrap-up isn’t hard to imagine at all.
Something New also aims to send a message about unexpected romance. Weird, then, that its story of love appears to be threaded with an undercurrent of hate.
Before I tell you exactly how, picture this modern romantic-comedy setup: a blind date in which—gasp!—a white woman is unknowingly set up with a black man. Once they meet, the woman looks at her date, who’s handsome and charming, with barely veiled disgust. Though she won’t date him, she hires him to work on the yard of her new home, where she won’t let him walk through the front door. When her brother comes to visit one day, he’s rude to the rejected guy and explains his behavior by saying, “But he’s the help.”
Think it would fly?
Well, maybe, the filmmakers must have said. But only if we mix things up a little. So the reverse is the basis of Something New, directed by first-timer Sanaa Hamri (previous experience: music videos and a Prince concert film) and written by TV scribe Kriss Turner (Everybody Hates Chris, Living Single). Kenya—subtle, Turner—played by Sanaa Lathan, is a successful, beautiful lawyer who dishes with her equally successful and beautiful Sex and the City–cloned girlfriends about the increasing improbability of any of them landing a man. The film’s original title was 42.4 Percent, which according to a Newsweek study is the share of educated black American women who never marry.
When Kenya’s friends tell her the real reason she’s alone is because she’s holding out for an IBM—ideal black man—she agrees to be set up by a co-worker on a blind date. She soon meets the very white Brian (Simon Baker) and begins “What up?”ing every person of color in the coffee shop as she, clearly embarrassed, makes her way to a table with her date. Kenya tells him it’s not going to work. Of course, she runs into him again at an outdoor party, when she tells the host that she loves the landscaping and is immediately reintroduced to the paleface.
Surprisingly, Something New’s offenses lie in its execution, not its ideas. As Guess Who proved last year—well, to some—the what’s-she-doing-with-a-white-guy plot can be mined for both laughs and messages of tolerance. But the reverse-racism angle of that film was expressed mostly through Bernie Mac’s comic overreactions; the Caucasian object of his exasperation was loved by his daughter and given a chance by the rest of the family. Here, Brian is the bad guy all the way: Kenya literally shuts the door in his face. Her brother (Donald Faison) tells her, “You are not that desperate!” And her mother (Alfre Woodard) soon pushes an IBM (Blair Underwood) her way after Kenya and Brian finally, if unbelievably, start to get cozy.
The script itself has a few funny moments, such as when Kenya and her girlfriends decide their new motto for love is “Let go; let flow” and one of them remarks that “It’s better than ‘Keep hope alive!’” But the dialogue more often turns trite. (“I’m just a landscaper,” Brian tells Kenya. “I take hard earth and make things bloom.”) And once Hamri has the unlikable Kenya lose her ’tude and—literally—let down her hair, things get unforgivably gushy, an impossible transition for Lathan to pull off. Even if the actress could, it’d be too late anyway. No matter how sweetly Something New closed, you’d never quite get its bad taste out of your mouth.CP