Films involving queer relationships are often a disappointment to LGBT viewers, because the portrayals are stereotypical, the relationship is a sideline to a heterosexual plot, or the film is so small that you’ll only be able to see it at film festivals, and it isn’t going to get out there where it can be seen by a wider audience.
Happily, among the many reasons to see and like Imagine Me and You, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, is the fact that none of the above apply.
We open in London on the day of Rachel’s (Lost and Delirious‘s Piper Perabo) wedding to her best friend and longtime boyfriend, Hector (Matthew Goode). In attendance are the couple’s friends, family, and, at the request of Rachel’s younger sister, the wedding’s florist Luce (Lena Headey). Before the end of the reception, Luce is becoming fast friends with all of Rachel’s family, fending off advances from more than one man in Heck’s party, and on her way to becoming more than friends with the new bride.
Thus we have the beginnings of the love triangle, as Rachel’s romantic feelings for Luce throw a wrench into her plans to marry Heck.
In essence, this film is a romantic comedy with queer content with precious few of the pitfalls often found in movies about romantic triangles. There’s no stupidity about relationships, no unrealistic, tired, comical misunderstandings, the primary and important secondary characters are three dimensional, acting and production values are high quality, cliché and stereotype are at a minimum, and last but not least from a lesbian/bi perspective, we have a mainstream film in which a gay relationship is central, and positively presented.
This is due to a number of reasons, one being that it was primarily a UK production so, though bought by Fox Searchlight for distribution, Hollywood was largely uninvolved in the making of the film.
Writer and director Ol Parker is at pains not to present lesbian relationships as inherently different from straight ones, while not going out of his way to force the issue, and not boxing queer relationships into having to conform to the straight person ideal mould either.
At the same time he is aware that much of his audience will not be used to seeing queer relationships this way, and is in a sense counting on it. In the Q & A after the screening, he told us that he had originally written it to be about a man and a woman, but found that people found parts of the story development too predictable, thus he discovered that he was actually writing a gay film.
Gay though it is, the relationship’s gayness is presented as an everyday sort of occasion. We don’t have to see a tortured “I can’t be gay” scene, or another terrible coming out with an unsupportive family.
It is worth noting that while Luce identifies as gay, Rachel never says, in so many words, how she views her sexuality. She’s just fallen in love, and the person in question happens to be a woman; a modern, fluid way of showing a sexuality.
Also up to date is the way that straight characters view gay relationships and gay people. In other words, we’ve got a lot of progress in acceptance and lack of resistance, but some inequities and unconscious imagery linger. So there is some eyebrow raising at Flowered Up, Luce’s shop, but it is momentary, and Rachel’s mother raises the issue of grandchildren if Luce and Rachel are together, which sets things up for Anthony Stewart Head to deliver a perfect line about turkey basters.
Heck’s difficulty is the same as it would be if Rachel was in love with another man. Heck’s friend Cooper (Darren Boyd) fancies Luce, and is undaunted by the news that Luce is gay, saying “Anyone can change teams … well, I mean not anyone… I wouldn’t”.
Getting back to elements not concerned with gay visibility, the casting was spot on. Parker said that in casting, he had a policy of casting only people who he liked and hoping that the fun and interplay between the actors would carry through onscreen. From the excellent chemistry displayed on screen, I’d say his strategy worked.
The supporting roles are also well cast. We get to see Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Giles) putting in a terrifically funny performance as a none-too-bright, loving father, Ned, who nonetheless has some very perceptive things to say, playing opposite Celia Imrie, in a part written for her, as his long-suffering “I know better than you and we both know it” wife.
Boo Henderson as the little girl, “H”, is an absolute delight not to be missed.
If I were to characterize the way this story was written and presented, high on the list would be balance. Parker keeps situations and dialogue in good taste, bringing strong, honest emotion and sympathy into play, while being quite funny at the same time.
The result is a beautiful, touching, sensitive and sweet–without being cloying–stunner of a lovely film that deserves to be seen, even if, as in my case, romantic comedies aren’t usually your thing.
So, if you’re looking for a really good date movie this Valentine’s Day, don’t rent High Art. Bring her to Imagine Me and You.