IMAGINE ME & YOU written and directed by Ol Parker, with Piper Perabo, Lena Headey and Matthew Goode. A Fox Searchlight release. 93 minutes. Opens Friday (February 3). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Funny how fame works. Most serious actors - Philip Seymour Hoffman, say, or Catherine Keener - do the indie thing until they finally score that big studio picture.
Piper Perabo's taken another route. She made a big-screen splash as one of the wet-T-shirted bartenders in David McNally's frat-boy fantasy, Coyote Ugly, then floundered in studio bombs like The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle and George And The Dragon. (Ring any bells? Didn't think so.)
Her biggest commercial success up till now has been the Cheaper By The Dozen franchise, in which she played the eldest child of Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. But really, how can you compete with Hilary Duff (and 10 other adorable, scene-stealing kids)?
Ironically, it wasn't till she showed up in arty independent films later in her career that Perabo really shone. Her turn as Jessica Paré's pained schoolgirl lover in Léa Pool's Lost And Delirious (adapted from Susan Swan's The Wives Of Bath) remains one of her favourite roles.
She could reach a whole new level of recognition playing another indie Sapphic screen role in Imagine Me & You, a likeable romantic comedy set in London. Not that she's worried about being typecast.
"Listen, if I get typecast playing lesbian characters, all I can say is bring on the good roles!" she laughs on the phone from New York City, where she lives. "As long as I don't get stuck playing those Coyote Ugly kinds of parts."
Perabo's like a lower-profile and slightly younger Amanda Peet. She's bright, young and has a ton of charisma. But in a business not known for its complex roles for women, she's desperately in need of that breakout film.
At last year's Toronto film fest interviews for the probably-won't-get-released film Edison, she outclassed - and -answered - bigger celebs like Justin Timberlake and Morgan Freeman. At the time, she noted that she'd filmed nine pictures in a year and a half, then humbly added that it beat waiting tables.
"I feel like I'm working as hard as I can, and I hope that will bring me choices," she says.
"Like anybody, I see movies in the theatre and think, 'Wow, I would've loved to be in that.' But there's a certain level of script and director I'm just not getting. I need to get in the door for those films."
What kinds of directors?
"Oh, Terrence Malick, Baz Luhrman, Wong Kar-wai," she says, not missing a beat. Clearly, she isn't your typical starlet. Her dream role, she tells me, would be Josephine Bonaparte.
She moans when I mention The Cave, last year's stinker about huge bats in Romania.
"You didn't really see it, did you?" she laughs, incredulous.
Coincidentally, her Cave co-star, Lena Headey, ended up being her love interest in Imagine Me & You. Perabo plays Rachel, a Londoner who on her wedding day (to Match Point's Matthew Goode) falls for the wedding's florist, Luce (Headey).
"We spent three months in Romania (for The Cave) scuba diving and rock climbing," she explains. "The boys were nice, but I really needed a girl to talk to. We became really good friends by the time we'd finished the film, so we already had this comfort level."
Perabo was drawn to Imagine Me & You's honesty.
"There's no villain, just two people who fall in love," she says.
"I appreciate that there isn't a scene where Rachel asks, 'Does this mean I'm gay?' It almost makes the film progressive. It also avoids that pitfall where gay or lesbian characters have to suffer because they're gay. Rachel suffers, but it's because she's committed to someone yet finds herself in love with another person."
The born-and-bred Jersey girl lobbied hard for the role, and was shocked when she beat out many English actors to play the quintessentially British Rachel.
"I worked really hard on that accent," she laughs, adding that she based it on the posh dialect of the film's Primrose Hill setting.
"I hate when I'm watching a film and a performer's accent comes and goes. What I aimed for was consistency."
Imagine Me & You adds a bit of fresh air to the flailing rom-com genre. On the day of her wedding to her amiable and strangely nicknamed fiancé, Heck (Matthew Goode), Rachel (Piper Perabo) locks eyes with florist Luce (Lena Headey) and discovers the love of her life. Think Kissing Jessica Stein set in London and minus the marinate line.
Director Ol Parker's script relies too much on quirky dialogue that doesn't really establish character, but the attractive, likeable cast - headed by a confident Perabo, whose smile is reminiscent of a young Julia Roberts - adds a lot to the familiar formula.