Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden is a pro. Often noted for dramatic roles like portraying Lee Krasner in “Pollock” which won her a Best Actress Oscar, it’s a refreshing to see Harden tackle broad comedy in Joan Carr-Wiggin’s third feature, “If I Were You.” If you were lucky enough to catch the Broadway or Los Angeles stage version of “Carnage,” you already caught Harden’s ironic humor chops. In “If I Were You,” Harden takes the comedic broadstrokes a few steps further playing the wife of a philandering husband who inadvertently befriends his mistress.
In a meet-cute (or awkward) sort of way, Harden’s Madelyn stumbles upon her “supposedly working late” husband, Paul (Joseph Kell), having dinner with a vivacious young thing, a wannabe actress named Lucy (Leonor Watling). Hiding in the restaurant’s outer corridor, Madelyn calls her husband on his cell, which makes him suspicious. Could Madelyn know about his escapades? He decides to break off the relationship right there, and return to Madelyn.
But it’s too late; the cat is out of the bag.
Madelyn flees the restaurant ahead of her exiting husband and the crying Lucy, and steps into a corner store to witness the pitiful, end of relationship fight between the two lovers. Suddenly Lucy walks into the store and buys items that seem suicide inducing. Morally responsible Madelyn follows the traumatic Lucy home.
Similar to many mistaken identity farces, Harden’s Madelyn is the driving force in learning more about this “other” woman, but along the way learns more about herself. Harden and Watling do a fine job as the two friends/enemies, and lots of comedic mileage is achieved in discussing relationships, expectations from mates, careers and even letting go in life.
In the film’s production notes, Carr-Wiggin cites a fondness for the screwball comedy director Preston Sturges (“Sullivan’s Travels,” “The Lady Eve”). She also expresses a love for Shakespeare’s “King Lear” a project she had been working on prior to this film. Carr-Wiggins decides to do some marrying of the two projects and has Harden play Lear in an amateur stage production that Lucy’s in. This is revolutionary, a woman has never played Lear before, and Harden plays the King with ease.
There’s no denying Harden’s triumph as Lear, but the problem seeing these integrated Lear performances is that it stops the flow of the film – the pacing comes to a halt; not a good thing for the third act of a RomCom. Ultimately, the film’s breezy quality is lost, even as we witness the triumph of Madelyn’s performance. What may have looked good on paper, flails on film.
The talented, supporting cast includes Joseph Kell and Aidan Quinn as Derek, a new interest for Madelyn. Marcia Gay Harden, Leonor Watling, and the creative team behind “If I Were You,” certainly give it their all, and there are numerous laugh-out-loud, clever moments. One only wishes that the overall tone and pacing were more even to make Joan Carr-Wiggin’s feature film soar.
“If I Were You” is 115 minutes, Rated R, and opens March 15.
For other film reviews by Lori Huck, check out:
‘A Place at the Table’ Review: A Morally Responsible, Must-See Film
AFI FEST 2012: Gala Screening of ‘Life of Pi’ and a Virtual Ang Lee