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I Am I


2014 | 1.85:1

I Am I

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Movie appeal

 
Drama100%
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Theatrical release date


 13 June, 2014

Country of origin


 United States

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I Am I

 (2014)

I Am I Preview  

7
 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 11, 2014

Sincerity goes a long way in film. It’s difficult to sustain, but individual moments count for something, which is why “I Am I” remains a strangely beguiling picture, despite obvious shortcomings. It marks the directorial debut for actress Jocelyn Towne, who conjures a generous starring role for herself as well, arranging a challenge of tonality that’s largely conquered, managing deep-seated emotion with an askew premise that teases uncomfortable areas of interaction. “I Am I” isn’t bold work, but it’s interesting when it finds true intimacy, masterminding a few suspenseful moments of poor judgment and bruised hearts that hold attention.



After the death of her mother, Rachel (Jocelyn Towne) is having difficulty getting past the loss. Complicating the grieving process is the reappearance of her birth father, Gene (Kevin Tighe), an elderly man who suffers from retrograde amnesia, still thinking he’s 34 years old. In his mental fog, Gene believes Rachel is his ex-wife, leaving the women confused but willing to follow the illusion to better understand a man she’s always wanted to know. The reunion proves difficult to explain, with Gene’s senior facility caretaker, Jonathan (Jason Ritter), trying to keep his charge emotionally steady, while Rachel’s adoptive father, Michael (Josh Clark), attempts to figure out exactly what his daughter is up to. Losing herself in this role-playing fantasy, Sarah finds a connection to the past she’s never had before, with her judgment clouding as Gene begins to see through the ruse.

The premise seems pulled right out of a sitcom, but the atmosphere of “I Am I” is unnervingly severe. It’s a film about depression, following Rachel as she experiences perhaps the lowest point in her life, facing death for the first time, finding the loss of her mother unbearable. The twist of the material (Towne, niece of legendary writer Robert, also scripts) is a situation of secrets, with the very existence of her birth father hidden from her by her mother, creating a dual sensation of betrayal and discovery that’s almost too much for the character to bear. “I Am I” takes a few moments to inspect this confusion, appreciating the fragile position Rachel has found herself in. While she decides to pursue a relationship with Gene, the programmed reverence for her mother is broken down during research, with Rachel poring through photo books on a quest to understand all the years she was denied.



Amnesia as a plot device can be gimmicky, but Towne keeps extremity in check during “I Am I.” A veteran of the Vietnam War, Gene is a rattled man who maintains a peaceful existence despite his unawareness, treating the Rachel/wife discovery as a second chance, his brain frozen in time. The production treats the development cautiously, with Rachel initially disturbed by Gene’s mental erasure, but soon learns to appreciate a rare opportunity to understand her parents in an honest way. She pushes her luck on occasion, with Gene’s sensitivity to the outside world periodically rubbed the wrong way, while Jonathan struggles to keep the older man stabilized with art and pleasantries to prevent crippling shock. There’s tension in the daughter’s testing of boundaries, including dressing up in her mother’s clothes, directly plugging into Gene’s fantasyland, yet “I Am I” treads carefully, looking for moments of grace in the mix-up, not punishment.

For viewers hunting for a little more psychological depth, Rachel’s home life is open for inspection, covering daddy issues with her considerably older husband, while her adoptive father retains unexpected exasperation, threatened by Gene’s sudden appearance. Rachel’s own surges of guilt and grief add layers to the tale, with her interest in keeping Gene comfy in memory not simply an act of selflessness, but subterfuge to a certain degree, finding it easier to play a part than be herself in a monumentally sad situation.



“I Am I” unravels in the third act, with wild swings of melodramatic response slipping out of Towne’s control. The film starts to feel amateurish at times, unable to articulate emotions easily established in the opening of the feature. The production simply runs out of gas at the very moment it must begin providing answers, and it’s disappointing, but only temporarily. In a welcome act of directorial wizardry, Towne recovers with her final scene, locating a precise note of resignation and benevolence to close on, reminding viewers of the heart “I Am I” is capable of.

Starring: Jocelyn Towne, Kevin Tighe (I), Jason Ritter, Simon Helberg
Director: Jocelyn Towne

» See full cast & crew




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