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If I Were You

If I Were You
Kino Lorber
2012 / Color / 1:78 enhanced widescreen / 115 min. / Street Date May 14, 2013 / 29.95
Starring Marcia Gay Harden, Leonor Watling, Joseph Kell, Aidan Quinn, Valerie Mahaffey, Gary Piquer, Michael Therriault.
Bruce Worrall
Original Music Paolo Buonvino, Guy Farley
Produced by David Dordian, Alan Latham
Written and Directed by Joan Carr-Wiggin

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Some deserving movies don't break out of the pack, don't make a splash and don't get their share of attention. It often seems that the combined heft of the film industry pushes yet another comic book blockbuster, leaving by the wayside movies that at least deserve a chance at sleeper-hood. That's the nature of the movie game these days.

If I Were You received a no-release release after making a bright showing at film festivals, probably due to the sheer expense of a present-day distribution campaign. It's a conventional romantic comedy with likeable actors led by the versatile but woefully underused Marcia Gay Hardin. The actress carries this comic role with the kind of grace that years ago could well have made her a first rank star. Writer-director Joan Carr-Wiggin doesn't strive for post-modern touches in what is basically a traditional farce about adultery. The trick is of course finding the right comic tone, and I believe that she and her cast have achieved that. The screenplay has classic contours. If it weren't for the constant use of cell phones (and they're cleverly used) the story could happen in 1954.

Marketing expert Madelyn (Marcia Gay Harden) is shocked and hurt when she accidentally witnesses her husband Paul (Joseph Kell) sharing a drink with a sexy younger woman, Lucy (Leonor Watling of Almodóvar's Talk to Her). A few minutes later she is rescuing Lucy from a suicide attempt. Without identifying herself, Madelyn encourages Lucy to divulge every detail about her affair with Paul... and talks about her unfaithful husband without identifying him either. As they acknowledge that their emotions cause them to make bad decisions, each woman will advise the other on romantic choices. Madelyn takes full advantage of her position. She advises Lucy to stay away from Paul. But she doesn't count on developing a friendship with the confused young woman. Madelyn also follows Lucy's advice, with the result that Paul is soon convinced that she is having an affair as well. Just to keep Lucy busy nights Madelyn encourages her to audition for a play. But Madelyn doesn't expect to meet the sympathetic, attractive Derek (Aidan Quinn)...

If you like Marcia Gay Harden, stop reading. If I Were You is going to be a fun experience. The movie is a showcase for Ms. Harden's talents as a comedienne. The picture requires her to keep secrets while running a double-sided scam on both her husband and his mistress. Harden has a nimble comedy style. Little flashes of self-satisfaction zip across her face, followed by dark clouds of pique. She is dumbfounded when Lucy admits to needing to have sex more than once a day. Madelyn drinks heavily in the first act, which may be a pitch for some easy laughs. But Harden never overdoes it. When the play rehearsals come along our 'confused' heroine turns out to be a natural Shakespearean actress. I like the tone established here. The story is anything but serious, yet the people involved are real enough. Madelyn is taking care of a dying mother, and when she opens up her thoughts to her new friend Derek, we share her feelings.

It's true that the secondary characters in Ms. Carr-Wiggin's screenplay tend to circle the Madelyn character. Spanish actress Leonor Watling isn't as soulful as she might be and sometimes comes off as little more than the 'bimbo' referenced in the dialogue. It's no surprise when Joseph Kell's Paul seems interested in his wife only when an unknown other man seems interested in her too. Rather than popping its cast in and out of bedrooms & closets, If I Were You's farce works out a clever line of logic using crisscrossing cell phone calls. Paul assumes that Lucy's 3 am calls to Madelyn are from her mystery lover. When Madelyn admits that her marriage is in trouble, her foolish boss Keith (Gary Piquer) jumps to the conclusion that it's his chance to move in. Keith's foolish behavior alerts his more traditionally jealous wife Lydia (Valerie Mahaffey). Providing a more amusing subplot is the theater troupe auditioning for King Lear. Madelyn is there only to give Lucy a boost, but one of her confused emotional outbursts so impresses director Rainer (Michael Therriault) that he enlists her to play the leading character. Everyone agrees that Lucy has next to no acting talent, but Madelyn ends up coaching her to play The Fool. Kept in the dark, Paul assumes that Madelyn's rehearsal nights are spent with a mystery lover... and has no idea that his mistress and his wife are now best friends.

True, If I Were You has its fair share of strained moments, mainly in some of the drunk humor and Keith's amorous enthusiasm. But it respects its characters, showoff screaming scenes are kept to a minimum, and Madelyn's sudden friendships with Lucy and Derek are quite touching.

Marcia Gay Harden carries the show with such charm and appeal that it must be really frustrating to the filmmakers to see it passed by, and unjustly dissed by a particularly mean-spirited critic. Is If I Were You too square for today's narrow range of rom-com acceptability? Will the actors not appeal to 17 year-olds? Not enough extreme sexuality or gross-out humor? Looking back over Marcia Gay Harden's more prominent movies, I see how her roles tend toward unpleasantness: Casa de Los Babys, Into the Wild, The Mist. But I could always tell that I'd like her in a sympathetic part.

Kino Lorber's DVD of the Canadian production If I Were You is a high quality encoding of a handsomely shot (Red One Camera) show. The extras are a trailer and several EPK-style interviews in which the actors mostly explain their characters. The show is possibly best aimed at a slightly older audience, which will appreciate Marcia Gay Harden's impressive star turn.

I enjoyed If I Were You quite a bit. I do confess that I was pleased to find a screen comedy about adults, that does not rely for its humor on cruelty, infantile sex fantasies or bodily excretions. Tell me there are more like this out there.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, If I Were You rates:
Movie: Very Good ++
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Subtitles: none, but it does have closed captions
Supplements: Cast interviews & video trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 17, 2013

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2013 Glenn Erickson

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