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If I Were You

2012 | 115 min | R | 1.85:1

If I Were You


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Theatrical release date

 15 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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If I Were You


If I Were You Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 27, 2013

I can easily see why a respected actress like Marcia Gay Harden decided to take part in a dreary picture like “If I Were You.” It’s a meaty role that requires broad comedic skills and subtle dramatics, while offering the performer a chance to play around with romantic interactions and boozehound sway, hitting all the corners of characterization while spewing out a mouthful of dialogue. Heck, there’s even a touch of Shakespeare in the mix as well. Professionally, I’m sure it seemed like a smart movie, yet “If I Were You” is a strangled endeavor that’s 30 minutes too long and short-sheeted in the laugh department. Perhaps it was a blast to make, but to sit through the feature requires an extraordinary amount of patience.

An overworked, undersexed woman, Madelyn (Marcia Gay Harden) has discovered that husband Paul (Joseph Kell) is cheating on her with ditzy actress Lucy (Leonor Watling). Watching the pair have a spat from afar, Madelyn reflexively comes to Lucy’s aid when young lady entertains a suicidal moment, afraid to reveal her identity in full. Befriending her rival, Madelyn is trapped in a sour situation, coping by downing gallons of scotch and making a pact with the adulteress, with the two giving themselves over to each other’s guidance. For Lucy, this means playing coy with Paul and really trying to land an acting gig with a community production of “King Lear.” For Madelyn, the effort is more daunting, reluctantly following Lucy into the theater as the titular character while juggling romantic interest from co-worker Keith (Gary Piquer) and a mystery man (Aidan Quinn) who enters her life when her mother passes. Baffled and often drunk, Madelyn hopes to continue the charade with Lucy, only to find Paul’s jealousies keeping him closer than ever.

“If I Were You” has the rhythm and structure of a theatrical production, brought to the screen by writer/director Joan Carr-Wiggin (“A Previous Engagement”). It’s a movie of fussy behaviors and sitcom interactions, entombed by overworked paragraphs of dialogue intended to provide snap and severity with stage-bound antics that barely require camera movement. It’s a static picture with loquacious characters who micromanage their every thought, burning with questions and anxiety as the filmmaker attempts to funnel this allegedly nervous energy into a formulaic dramedy about misunderstandings, aging, and the value of independence. The feature also runs nearly two hours, a punishing amount of time to convey simple epiphanies and arrange pedestrian confrontations, yet Carr-Wiggin isn’t ready to whittle her effort down to a manageable size. She’s determined to beat every last idea into the ground.

Mercifully, with Harden around, “If I Were You” is a little easier to digest, basking in the glow of an actress with solid timing and a tight grasp on emotional subtleties. She’s easily the highlight of the movie, selling Madelyn’s pursed-lipped panic with a full read of moods and mania, keeping her funny business tolerable and the heartfelt passages of the screenplay accessible despite Carr-Wiggin’s addiction to “Love Boat” plotting techniques. The material is beneath her, but she manages to survive with some dignity intact, buzzing around the film with a strangely convincing energy. The supporting cast isn’t quite as lucky, though Quinn’s equally askew presence comes in handy during the picture’s second half, where discussions of the afterlife and mortality collide with silly business involving relationship reveals. Harden and Quinn are pros, offering “If I Were You” the support it sorely needs.

Carr-Wiggin overestimates the lasting appeal of her screenplay, dragging matters through domestic disturbances and theatrical rehearsals before she eventually ends the enterprise on a faux inspirational note of empowerment -- a feeling better explored in a tighter film with less character clutter and strained ideas for comedy. “If I Were You” gets off on the wrong foot and never acquires a pleasurable stride, but at least Harden’s here to salvage what little there is to save.

Starring: Marcia Gay Harden, Aidan Quinn, Leonor Watling, Gary Piquer
Director: Joan Carr-Wiggin

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