TORONTO — For his feature debut, Ol Parker never set out to write a lesbian romantic comedy. “I wanted to write about love at first sight because I fell in love at first sight,” says the writer-director of “Imagine Me & You,” which had its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month. Thinking high concept, the London-born Parker tried to develop the most complicated love-at-first-sight situation imaginable. He decided it would be walking down the aisle to the altar and finding someone else along the way.
And so that’s what happens in the film to Rachel (Piper Perabo) when she locks eyes for the first time with her florist, Luce (Lena Headey), as she’s being escorted by her father to marry her longtime beau, Heck (Matthew Goode). For the rest of the movie, Rachel has to sort out her feelings for both Luce, who is gay, and Heck.
Parker originally played with the idea of the mystery lover being a bloke, but decided that would be too “Madame Bovary” and “all misery and guilt.” “In the middle of the night, I woke up and I realized it had to be the same sex,” the filmmaker explains over a drink. “Then it was like trying to write a gay movie that takes no account of the politics of coming out. It buys into a very spiritual idea of love — it’s about the soul and the body.”
Which means it’s the exact opposite of “Brokeback Mountain,” another gay-themed film with deafening buzz at Toronto in which Heath Ledger’s character can’t quite commit himself to a lifetime with his longtime love, another cowboy. In “Imagine Me & You,” Rachel never pauses over the conundrum of having a relationship with another woman; her issue is that she’s already married.
Aside from its attractive cast — “You can write the best script in the entire world and if people don’t want to shag your leads, than you’re buggered,” Parker says, quoting Richard Curtis (“Love Actually” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) — and its witty British humor, what’s charming about the film is how chaste it is. Luce and Rachel have a fully clothed love scene that involves only some intense smooching in the back of Luce’s flower shop. “I should have pushed that further,” Parker admits. “But the movie was never going to be subtitled ‘Hot Girl on Girl Action.'”
This story first appeared in the September 26, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Parker first wrote the film for his wife, Thandie Newton, but she had to pull out after becoming pregnant with their second child. Still, he insists Newton “wrote all the good stuff,” and the subject of the film — the love at first sight idea — is based on their relationship. They met when Newton starred in a BBC movie he wrote about date rape. “She walked in and we clicked right away,” he says. A week later, she informed him they’d be married. “But I turned her down for a year. I kept telling her she could do better because she clearly could. And finally she said, ‘You know, I really think you’re smart and if you keep saying that, I’m going to start believing you.'”
Fox Searchlight bought “Imagine Me & You” at the Cannes Film Festival and will release it Stateside come Valentine’s Day. “I don’t know if it was a bidding war, but it was a very mild, good-natured skirmish,” Parker says. “Still, I’m horribly broke.”
As for the future, he’s trying to write a thriller, and has been collaborating with his friend, Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy”), on a film about Jimi Hendrix’s last days.
“But there’s no plan,” he says. “I have no goals or ambitions whatsoever.”