At the halfway point in If I Were You, it seems like the film’s biggest problem is going to be Joseph Kell being charmless. Close second is Valerie Mahaffey’s small part being a waste of Mahaffey. Director Carr-Wiggin’s script is a tad plodding in the plotting, but it’s because she’s thorough and it does just mean more great acting from lead Marcia Gay Harden. Then, somewhere in the second hour… they change film or video “stock” and cinematographer Bruce Worrall cannot shoot it. Especially not in the finale. It’s stunningly bad lighting, especially given the first half or whatever looks really good. Carr-Wiggin’s composition is fairly standard, but they’re fine shots.
And then… we get to the third act and the resolve. There are problems with the movie jumping ahead three weeks, hiding important things from the viewer, and coping out getting through all the drama. But they end up not mattering because also find out second lead Leonor Watling is great. Can give a great performance and act the hell out of anything and Carr-Wiggin doesn’t have her do it. Carr-Wiggin lets Watling stay solvent opposite Harden—who knocks over everyone else in the cast, especially Kell and Gary Piquer, until Aidan Quinn shows up to show off how good it can be when Harden’s got someone with the same ability class in a scene. But it could’ve been Watling for the whole movie.
Only they didn’t do it. There wasn’t even a reason for it with the time job and the way they do the resolve.
It’s really disappointing.
Especially since, just before the time jump, If I Were You has never been better or had more potential. Well, sort of it. I’ll get there.
The movie opens with seemingly happily married Harden discovering Kell is cheating on her with Watling. When Watling turns out to be in need of a wellness check, Harden ends up being the one to do it and starts hanging out with her to find out about the affair. For this portion of their relationship—and most of the first act of the film—Harden’s blotto. She plays a great drunk. Like, masterclass in drunk acting. When she stumbles around you can feel it because you’ve felt it. Also Harden doesn’t tell Watling she’s the wife. But she does tell Watling she’s got a cheating husband.
Eventually Harden and Watling come up with this plan where Harden’s going to tell Watling what to do, Watling is going to tell Harden what to do. It’s a middling but effective scene. It’s got a lot to do and it takes a while but it gets it done but now, having finished the film, I know it could’ve been so much better because Watling could’ve been amazing in it.
The movie runs almost two hours—and is missing at least another ten minutes of story—and there’s a very clear first and second act. Second act is about Harden’s mom being close to death, Harden and Watling teaming up to star in a play together, coworker Piquer (who’s good and funny just not able to stay afloat opposite Harden) pursuing her post-affair discovery, and then Quinn as another son of a patient at the mom’s care facility.
There are only a couple scenes with Quinn and Harden but they’re so good together. He’s so good. It might be an hour before he shows up (“and” credit, after all) but when he and Harden have their meet cute in bad circumstances? It’s killer. You could watch a whole movie of them smiling at each other. Longer than even If I Were You should run. Just excellent acting. Two performances of it instead of just one and, I don’t know, forty percent and lower ability-wise.
Except, of course, Watling could’ve done more. Carr-Wiggin just didn’t bother with it. And then completely copped out with the conclusion. Skipped all the important character development. Movie goes from four days being thoroughly inspect to three weeks not being important at all.
The kicker is the play-in-the-movie implies this exceptional potential project, far more promising than the film itself. And even with that highlight—albeit a poorly lighted one—Carr-Wiggin’s still cops out. It’s very weird to see such an… elaborately plotted film very clearly not have an ending. It’s disappointing. But Harden and Quinn give exceptional performances, admittedly in not-heavy-lifting parts (partially because not even the movie asks you to take Kell seriously opposite Harden), and Watling can probably be great in stuff and got very awkwardly wasted.
Oh, and strangely great support from Bethany Jillard. Only strange because she’s just in the play and doesn’t even have a real character name, but she’s always doing something awesome. Much of If I Were You is waiting to see excellent acting, usually from Harden, then Quinn, and then—if you’re playing attention—Jillard. And, you know, Watling when she gets to do it.