Film: Women on the Verge

Freedomland is too noisy, while Imagine Me & You is a formulaic girl-meets-girl romance

Fox Searchlight

Til death do us part? Maybe not. Matthew Goode and Piper Perabo star as a newlywed couple in Imagine Me & You.

Imagine Me & You is the kind of film you like at first sight simply for its patchwork of familiar, favorite pieces. Its London backdrop of Primrose Hill is a postcard fantasy of beautiful apartments, city parks and corner flower shops, all lovelier than those found in the popular Brit romance Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Piper Perabo and Matthew Goode play cute newlywed couple, Rachel and Heck, enjoying their first weeks of married life with dinner parties and weekend mornings sleeping in late. But writer/director Ol Parker sets up his comedy as a girl-meets-girl romance, proposing love at first sight in the pretty face of Luce (Lena Headey), the neighborhood florist who catches the bride's fancy.

Imagine Me & You is still old-jeans comfortable despite Rachel's straying for the girl around the corner. It's L Word-inspired cinema stripped of the lusty melodrama that makes the lesbian cable TV series so popular. It's Kissing Jessica Stein, Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love and every other lighthearted gay comedy mixed together.

Imagine Me & You has bounce, good humor, an attractive cast and a sliver of heartache and soul searching. What it lacks is originality and storytelling heft in order for the happy endings among its good-looking trio to matter past the classic Turtles song "Happy Together" (the film's title is in its lyrics) playing across the closing credits.

Goode is button-cute as Rachel's best- pal-turned-husband, a decent guy unprepared for the realization that you can be a good partner and still lose your wife.

Goode is most familiar for his boyfriend roles opposite Scarlett Johansson in Woody Allen's Match Point and Mandy Moore in the throwaway comedy Chasing Liberty. His Imagine Me & You performance falls into the throwaway category as well, a series of thin-lipped smiles and stuttering dialogues that deserve the Hugh Grant comparisons.

Perabo shows a consistent English accent and an expression of bewilderment as the love-trouble girl. She's perky and pretty as Rachel, all lips and curls with a narrow face and a noble nose. But Rachel is never quite sure what's happening around her, and Perabo fails to add much-needed meaning to the role.

The one fireworks moment in Imagine Me & You occurs at a video arcade with Rachel and Luce testing their footwork at a disco dance machine during a girls' night out. It's energetic, romantic and believable when their eyes match their wide grins and almost-kisses.

Headey deserves credit for the film's brief moments of romantic drama. She's the only one of the fashionable trio capable of expressing feelings of love and longing. If there's one complaint aimed at Headey, last seen as a woodland tomboy in the period fantasy The Brothers Grimm, it's that she fails to generate more sparks with Perabo.

Parker ends his urban romance with a Wuthering Heights climax, substituting the English countryside for a sprint between streets of traffic gridlock. All of the film's previous near-miss kisses lead to a big-kiss finale, and yet none of it matters.

Falling-in-love stories require falling for the characters, no matter their genders. Happiness for the new couple means nothing if you can't empathize for the one left alone.

With all of crime thriller Freedomland's grating audio feedback and hyper photography, it's no wonder actress Julianne Moore felt compelled to act hysterical as Brenda Martin, a poor single mother in search of her missing 4-year-old son. Her down-and-dirty performance could easily be lost amid the constant noise and filthy gloss of the working-class New Jersey setting. So Moore acts the whirling dervish, a madwoman ready for the attic.

She makes her presence felt from her first appearance, a dazed stagger into a hospital emergency room with bloody hands outstretched, to a climactic confrontation with the police detective (Samuel L. Jackson) trying to find her son. Moore works hard at looking a mess, but it's all for naught. Nothing she does is believable, and that's the lone surprise to Freedomland, a thriller out of bounds.

Author Richard Price adapts his 1998 novel Freedomland for director Joe Roth (Christmas with the Kranks). Price is a veteran screenwriter (The Color of Money, Sea of Love, Night and the City) who can tell a gripping story on two hours of film as well as 500 pages of a novel. But moviemaking is a group effort, and Price's street-smart dialogue, ripped-from-the-headlines context and attention for detail are lost in a film without direction.

Edie Falco, a familiar face thanks to her role as a mobster's wife on cable TV's The Sopranos, is solemn, serious and forgettable as Karen Collucci, the leader of a volunteer group that searches for missing children.

Jackson is all sass and spark as Det. Lorenzo Council, a child of the Dempsey projects, the one man trying to stop a race riot from erupting. Jackson is hysteria without purpose as the always-shouting Council. He only stops for a puff of his asthma inhaler.

In terms of energy levels, Jackson syncs perfectly with the frantic Freedomland, but that only makes the film worse. Imagine Me & You grade: C-; Freedomland grade: D-

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