Life Swapping

Bubbly Me Myself I charts toils and troubles of self-identity crisis

Although its themes are about as revelatory as those of the average Cathy comic strip (clothes don't fit, job too busy, male not clairvoyant, AACK!), there's something irrefutably charming about Philippa "Pip" Karmel's debut feature, Me Myself I. The editor of Academy darling Shine has scripted a laundry list of woman's woes, added a subtle Twilight Zone twist, and turned Rachel Griffiths loose to frolic through the domestic obstacle course. The result is an engaging romp nestled somewhere between Nora Ephron and Neil Simon, though smarter and less cloying than either.

Coming off the passion of Hilary and Jackie and the lighter romance of Among Giants, Griffiths manages to infuse her role of single journalist Pamela Drury with giddy freshness, as if she's just tottered out of the shower onto the set. Entering her 30s, and beset by standard-issue biological and domestic concerns that seem, to her, terribly surprising, Pamela is otherwise a model of relative success, a cosmopolitan professional with her own fixer-upper loft in Sydney, Australia. There's only one problem: She ain't got no loverman, and the nights get cold. If only she hadn't turned down old flame Robert Dixon (David Roberts) when he proposed 13 years earlier. Sigh.

Given the do-or-die priority of absolute autonomy in Pamela's life -- foreshadowed in the opening credits, during which Aussie schoolgirls predict their future careers, which include bass player, philosopher, and skydiving instructor -- it's not surprising that she's stuck in something of a spiritual rut. Her home is a mess of halfhearted Martha Stewart attempts, she can't be bothered to cook and her bathroom is a shrine of tacky meditational adages. Thus, she loves and approves of herself, she is one with all life, she deserves and accepts the best . . . and her emotions are about as balanced as the national budget. Tellingly, one of those little girls in the opening montage describes a poor, desperate auntie who let loving wait too long. Pamela sees that this luge run to hell awaits her unless she shifts track soon.

Swap talk: Rachel Griffiths and David Roberts in Me Myself I.
Swap talk: Rachel Griffiths and David Roberts in Me Myself I.

An office birthday party with a svelte stripper wiggling his crotch in her face (set, naturally, to "I Believe in Miracles," the stripping anthem of both hemispheres, one must assume) fans Pamela's flame and lands her an awful date through the personal ads. "It's not like we're freaks, it's not like we're social retards," opines her schlumpy dinner partner, but it swiftly dawns on her that she'll definitely spiral into freakland unless she gets on the case, and soon. Supposing she should be happily married with two kids by this stage, she's shocked each day anew to learn that she isn't. Shocked enough, even, to loiter in the mud and rain outside the home of sexy guidance counselor Ben (Sandy Winton), whom she meets, and likes, entirely by coincidence. Despair only returns when Ben is revealed to be more attached than he previously let on . . . at least in this reality.

Me Myself I is a romantic comedy, of course, so only a modicum of misery is allowed, but one early scene seems to capture its essence perfectly. Alone with her soy milk and some porn, Pamela sits on the floor, discarding photographs of lovers past, regarding each with palpable scorn. "Bastard," she spits as they are destroyed. "Coward, misogynist, commitmentphobe." Given this bottled-up venom, it's almost a relief when, soon after, an ornery Bible thumper provokes her into traffic, where she is nailed by a car and wakes up, literally, beside herself. Now there are two Pamelas (both played by Griffiths), and the slightly calmer and wearier one transports the tense and coolly coifed one home . . . to the suburban home the married Pamela inhabits. When the children arrive home from school, the second Pamela bolts, leaving the first to manage a house -- rightly her house, despite its alien atmosphere -- without so much as an instruction manual.

In case you're wondering, the answer is yes, this is basically a variation on The Double Life of Sliding Freaky Friday Doors, stir in a little Mrs. Mom, and struggle to forget Drew Barrymore's Doppelganger. However, despite sharing a lack of plausible explanation with those split-ego flicks (fair enough), Me Myself I isn't balanced in its concern with both sides of the equation. Once Pamela Two is gone, it's entirely up to Pamela One to make sense of the situation, no mean feat considering that she's got three rambunctious kids who know her despite her not knowing them. Really, what does one say to a little girl when she asks "Mom, if you haven't got your period yet, do you have to use a condom when you have sex?" Especially when you don't really know the little girl, and she calls you "Mom."

The challenge is just beginning at this point, because Pamela quickly learns that motherhood often has little to do with delicacy, elegance and romance. The children (Yael Stone, Shaun Loseby and Trent Sullivan, all convincing and appropriately obnoxious) are only part of her challenge. In addition, her own mother has become a believer in this alternate universe. Topping the bill, the man she turned down years earlier shows up, and Pamela discovers, to her initial horror and increasing horniness, that Robert Dickson is now her husband. The integration of his stodgy predictability and her previously unbridled spirit makes for some of the most heartfelt domestic comedy since Men Don't Leave (if you want to call that a comedy). It's also one of the frankest and bawdiest date movies in recent memory, with no indiscretion left unexamined, no pelvic function unexplored.

Griffiths is clearly having a ball here, and her chemistry with the suitably forthright Roberts can be great fun to behold, especially when the two are locked in a wave of simultaneous ardor and angst. Overall, the movie is ambitious in scope and humble in execution, held together by Griffiths' wonderfully expressive face, which can shift in a blink from homely (in the best way) to glamorous. This gift is illustrated once Pamela's slogged through her swamp of issues and returns to a new balance not so unlike where she started. When Griffiths finally beams at the world outside her window, it becomes clear that the litany of insults she chanted over her former lovers was really an appraisal of herself. Her former self.

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