It’s appropriate that If I Were You’s climax includes a theatrical production because Joan Carr-Wiggin’s film is a full-on farce that would play well on stage.
When I say “farce”, I mean a comedy of errors set at Defcon 4. This is the type of film where someone ties a noose around their neck with full intentions to hang themselves, only to forget about the rope until they try and walk to somewhere else in the room. You get my point?
If I Were You shouldn’t work for as long as it does. Usually when a movie is acting out as being THIS broadly theatrical, the transition to the silver screen doesn’t hold up. Fortunately for Carr-Wiggin, she has two skilled performers manning the leading roles.
Leonor Watling plays Lucy, a ditzy temptress who has lured a married man away from his wife. Marcia Gay Harden plays Madelyn, the very cheated on tepid woman. The catch is after an outrageous coincidence, Lucy and Madelyn have found themselves crossing paths. Madelyn knows who Lucy is, but Lucy is oblivious to who Madelyn really is.
After more outrageousness, the two create a type of double act chemistry while agreeing to make the other person’s decisions. Lucy can’t get enough of her new best friend, and Madelyn will do anything to separate her husband from this floozy.
After that brief rundown, let me repeat, this should not work. Joan Carr-Wiggin’s film, however, is that exception that had me giggling with Lucy’s confusion and Harden’s deadpan readings. Secrets are unknowingly leaked consistently changing the mood of a scene, but Carr-Wiggin always keeps the foolishness in mind. There’s real emotion behind Harden’s covered up broken heart, but true silliness in how she presents her hidden identity from her new “friend”.
This premise is stretched as far as it can go – and then some. Numerous situations would be solved in an instant if one of these characters were to drop everything and spill the beans, but then there wouldn’t be a movie. It asks the viewer to leave common sense at the door, and watch a goofy snowball effect take place. If you can go with the film’s logic, you’ll find yourself having as good of a time I was having for the first hour of If I Were You.
Even then though, Carr-Wiggin adds too many characters into the mix with results not faring as well as they did when the farce was merely involving three people. As soon as other characters and their perceptions are piled on, you can feel the juggling routine fumble at grasping this gratuitous load.
But, that added difficulty is nothing compared to the abandonment Carr-Wiggin resorts to during the film’s manipulative tonal shift when seams start becoming more apparent in Madelyn’s story.
It starts with a flubbed handling of a death, and dwindles down from there. The farcical elements are replaced by contrived devices to bring the film down to a monotone plain. It’s gutsiness is paved over to make room for a by-the-numbers romance that brings in an attractive but unpersonable love interest, lifeless blow-ups, and a big underdog showstopper that will bring together those who hate each other.
It’s just as perplexing to see If I Were You trip up as it was to see it soar. I’m still confused as to how or why Joan Carr-Wiggin found herself on a drab path when she was doing everything intelligently before she took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. It’s an important lesson for any aspiring filmmakers to see that even though you may have the right ingredients, your final dish still has the possibility of going sour.