Movie Club Sungays: Imagine Me & You

A T V has a rainbow on the screen. The title states, movie club sungays with A L AND H L and queerfully. Imagine me and you.

Welcome to Movie Club Sungays! In this new series, I have teamed up with the podcast Queerfully to review a queer movie every month. Make sure to follow Queerfully on Twitter so you can vote for which films we talk about next. And don’t miss Queerfully’s episode of Imagine Me & You!

Each Movie Club Sungay post will review the film under a queer lens. This means that I’ll be looking into what the film does well and poorly in terms of queer representations. I also have a film degree, so I’ll occasionally sprinkle in some of my knowledge there. Let’s get started!

Overview

Imagine Me & You is a romantic-comedy written and directed by Ol Parker. (Fun fact: Parker also directed Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.) The plot follows Rachel on her wedding day (to a man, Heck), where she meets Luce, the woman who did the flowers for the ceremony. After becoming friends in 3 seconds, a blind set up for Luce and Heck’s (male) friend, and a make out session involving thorns, the women fall in love. (Sorry not sorry, Heck.)

This film came out in 2005, which was about a decade before my coming out crisis, and something I didn’t know existed until after the fact. As a British film, it opened to only a hundred theaters across the US the following year, grossing just barely over $500,000 in the States (source). (For frame of reference, Carol opened a wide release of about 750 US theaters and made over $12 million in the States (source).)

What the critics had to say

So, short story: The critics weren’t fans. The tomatometer reports a 34%, which is like, an F. A big chunk of these reviews said something along the lines of: Typical Brit Rom-Com. As a non-Brit, I stand firm on the grounds that the film just simply isn’t funny. But yes, the film was very British. Most importantly though, the film is far from “typical” simply because it’s gay. Critics like to overlook this (for many queer films) or paint it as “typical” in a good-natured attempt to normalize queer stories. However! Queer films contain queer experiences. Which is to say: Finally, the NON-typical story in the typical genre.

Audience scores the film higher on Rotten Tomatoes at 74%. As far as I can tell as a Professional Sapphic™, Imagine Me & You is pretty well-known and adored in the community, apart from a few outliers. (Do you agree? Let me know in the comments!) I first watched this film in 2015 after my girlfriend introduced it to me. It was one the very first overtly Gay (with a capital G) movies I ever watched, and I loved it a lot. While there are a few controversial takes and issues to consider, Imagine Me & You remains one of my personal queer classics. So, let’s break down some of the gay.

The Bad

Yes, even the classics have some negative things to consider. Tragically, I have yet to find a perfect queer film. (Disclaimer: I don’t make more out of the negative than I do the positive in an overall sense. I still love this film and many others.) The two biggest concerns I had upon my rewatch this week dealt with “acceptable” homophobic behavior and using cheating as a plot device.

The film’s lovable homophobe: Coop

The most irksome part of my rewatch was taking note of the casual homophobia concentrated into a character that the film paints as charmingly likable. Now, this caricature of a person wasn’t totally bothersome the first few times I watched the movie; however, this was also the first time I watched it since 2016. Meaning, this was my first rewatch after realizing I’m a lesbian. In a way, I think that made me a little more sensitive to this character’s comments. Allow me to break it down.

Coop is a typical womanizer trope of a character who finds monogamy overrated and doesn’t call women back after sleeping with them. It’s not surprising that this type of douchebag turns a lesbian into his own personal challenge after Rachel and her husband accidentally set up Luce, the lesbian, with Coop, the straight asshole, without realizing their mistake. But let’s do a slight rewind to when the film first introduces Coop.

Luce shows up at the wedding and introduces herself to Heck and Coop. After a correspondence with hardly enough words worth mentioning, Luce walks away, and Coop proclaims that he “fancies that flower girl.” Standard. He then continues to say, “She likes me,” which exemplifies how men project their desires onto women by affirming to themselves that the feeling is mutual. Because we all know, a lesbian absolutely does not like him, or any man. Straight women should also be offended by this behavior, but society and media alike condition women to appreciate unwanted advances, so here we are.

Several scenes later, all the nonlesbians find out Luce is a lesbian, to which Coop replies, “Anyone can change teams,” followed up by, “Not me.” Your classic classy straight dude attitude. Later on, Coop arranges a flower delivery from Luce’s business to his table at a restaurant as a play to get her to have dinner with him. When Luce arrives, he says, “Fuck me if I’m wrong, but I think you want to kiss me.” For a lesbian film as light, fluffy, and romantic as Imagine Me & You, it actually came shocking to me for the dialogue to deliver the F-bomb, specifically in a line dripping with lesbophobia. This nuanced, yet completely unoriginal, spat of homophobia stems directly from entitled straight men who find no fault in assuming anything they desire belongs to them, which Coop embodies.  

Obviously, this bullshit happens in real life, and men like Coop exist there too. Some gays might argue that they don’t want realistic homophobia in their films because it is already a reality for us, not something we need to be reminded of. Sure, a little fantasy bubble onscreen for an hour and a half would be cool; I’d be down. But, I don’t mind a little realism in the mix. My real issue with the film’s integration of Coop and his homophobia is that the film never condemns him for it. Not once do any of the characters (even Luce) call him out for his lesbophobic advances. When a story gives a character the space for a homophobic performance and never delivers repercussions of any kind, it grants the permission of acceptable behavior. Coop’s advances and comments toward Luce were hardly acceptable; so, I’m really critical of why they delivered this unnecessary side-plot or how it served the story at all. I know I certainly could’ve gone without it.

The theme: it’s okay to cheat in the name of True Love

Okay, so here’s the obvious controversy of the film, and probably the strongest reason that some gays reject this movie in their top ten queer lists. Interestingly enough, the movie critics hardly mentioned it as far as I noted. Nothing else can possibly be morally controversial when gays are involved!

Before we dig into the meat of this, here’s the disclaimer: I don’t condone cheating. Haven’t done it myself and don’t plan on taking part in the future. That being said, I don’t find the plot device reason enough to blacklist this film. If The Notebook tangles cheating into one of the most iconic and adored straight love stories of all time, then the gays can certainly have one of their own. (Here’s your daily reminder that you can enjoy something without condoning all problematic themes or implications.)

What sets the cheating apart from our other problematic point (Coop), deals with how the film dolls out some consequences for the characters involved. Obviously—considering the film’s happy ending—the consequences weren’t super severe. However, Rachel and Luce both express their guilt and inner conflict with this immoral act onscreen. This happens for both women, not just the married one. Luce confides in Coop that she has feelings for someone who is married (to which Coop says it isn’t her problem and she shouldn’t care, shocker.) Luce sharing her inner conflict onscreen points out that people should also be questioning her position, and that her reaction (conflicted) to the situation she found herself in (ethically questionable) is normal.

Later on when Rachel comes to Luce’s shop, she demands that “It’s got to stop now,” even though up to that point, nothing had happened apart from a few charged looks and an almost-kiss. This displays the guilt Rachel carries from her accidental connection with Luce. After acting on the cheating (making out) in a spontaneous, unplanned moment, Rachel flees the scene, expressing her guilt at knowing the pain her husband would feel. Luce, understanding the immorality of the situation, offers to remove herself from Rachel and Heck’s lives completely. “Tell me to go. Tell me that’s what you want, and I will walk away.” They part ways, a guilt-ridden Rachel confesses these feelings for Luce to Heck, Coop (of all people) reprimands Luce for getting involved with a married woman, and things are looking pretty shitty for a while.

So yes, everything works out for the gays at the end of the film, but does a happy ending that includes a cheating storyline really mean we’re condoning cheating? Does it mean that the film let it slide in the name of true love? Still debatable, obviously, but I’m going with no, as the characters clearly exemplify a guilty conscience and face consequences for their actions (although briefly). Compare this to our homophobe character, Coop, who spouts comments like “I’m a cure for lesbianism” throughout the story and receives no in-film consequences for being a disgusting piece of shit. Sadly, even in the sapphic community’s most beloved queer stories, homophobia is still more acceptable than other morally questionable acts.

The Good

While I do have a few issues with Imagine Me & You, they certainly don’t stop me from enjoying the movie. In fact, this is the case with most films. I really value appreciating the good from what we’re given while also discussing what could be done better. These Movie Club Sungays posts will rarely find me completely bashing any film under review.  

The “love at first sight” theme

As someone who fell in love without seeing my girlfriend in person (catch up on that story here), I’m not totally sure if I actually believe in love-at-first-sight. But, the film paints this in a way that really resonated with me during my latest rewatch.

The concept comes up at dinner where Rachel and Heck set up Coop and Luce (oops). Rachel describes meeting the right person as something you don’t know right away–something that feels “warm and comfortable” and that, “if you hang in there and give it a chance,” you’ll find, “this is it. Must be love.” Obviously, this is not a description of love at first sight, but let’s take a note at a few things before moving on, particularly the “hang in there and give it a chance” bit. Fellow lesbians, does this sound familiar? Can you recall trying give men a chance? Trying to “hang in there” until you fall in love or deem it “comfortable” enough? Again, after watching this under my newfound lesbian eyes, these chunks of Rachel’s dialogue stuck out right away. Compulsive heterosexuality in lesbians (myself included) exhibits the same thoughts during phases before identity acceptance. (Can you relate? Let me know in the comments.)

Directly after Rachel’s description of love, Luce jumps in with her love-at-first-sight counter. “I think you know immediately. As soon as your eyes [meet].” Again, I’m not a total believer in this “at first sight” business, but I am a hopeless romantic (guilty as charged), and the more Luce carries on, the more I buy into it. “And everything that happens from then on just proves that you had been right in that first moment.” Speaking from my own experience with love, I connected with my girlfriend very early on and fell in love fast (in your typical lesbian fashion). And the more we got to know each other and experience together, the more it did “prove” to me that I had been right about our instant connection. This very much resonated with my own experience from both Rachel and Luce’s perspectives, from trying to feel love with men and actually experiencing love with women.

The critics particularly disliked this part of the film because of its juvenile and naïve take on what falling in love means, but most of the critics are straight, and when the trope is simply painted as your cliché “love-at-first-sight,” I can see why it gets a negative reception at first. But with some queer goggles (and perhaps even more specifically in this context, lesbian goggles), it actually showcases an experience that many queer girls can relate to, specifically lesbians who have once found themselves in Rachel’s position, trying to make (romantic/sexual) love work with a man. (Yes, I am headcanonning Rachel as a lesbian because of this scene.) Overall, this rom-com trope scores big under the queer lens for me. Whether you want to spin it as love-at-first-sight or finding deep connections quick into the relationship, it’s a trademark of the rom-com genre, and the fact that critics knocked Imagine Me & You down a few notches for including the one device that every single rom-com has is—quite literally—homophobic.

Other positives

Some other moments worth an honorable mention include the grace at which Rachel’s parents take her shift of love from Heck to Luce. Unrealistic? Perhaps, but we already got our (un)healthy dose of homophobia from Coop, and I certainly wasn’t in the mood to take on more. So, having the parents on board with little turnaround time came pleasantly, despite its debatable display of realism.

I also greatly appreciated Luce’s coming-out moment in which Heck realizes she is a lesbian. In one of the few truly funny moments in the film, Luce turns Heck’s hetero-washed questions into a hilariously awkward situation. It plays on the fact that heterosexual people simply forget about the existence of gay people, and the really obvious “hints” about it (such as Luce saying she might get married in the future “now that the laws’ve changed”) go right over their heads, making them require the formal declaration: “I’m gay,” before they even consider the possibility. In this case, a douse of realism actually made my lesbian-self laugh at the relatability.

This concludes your Movie Club Sungay

Overall, Imagine Me & You remains one of my most beloved queer films simply for having characters that I can relate to in a very stereotypical genre. Love-at-first-sight (or however you want to interpret it) didn’t mean very much to me in any straight rom-coms, so finally seeing those same themes in two women really let me connect to a rom-com for the first time.

Don’t forget to listen to Queerfully’s podcast breaking down Imagine Me & You and contribute to the discussion by commenting on the post or adding your thoughts on Twitter! And tune in next month for another Movie Club Sungay!

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