'I Am I': Film Review

"I Am I"
Too sensitive for its own good, this drama fails to fully mine the potential of its provocative premise.

Jocelyn Towne's debut feature focuses on a woman who poses as her late mother in an effort to get closer to her amnesia-plagued father.

Veering towards uncomfortably creepy incestuous territory without ever quite landing there, Jocelyn Towne’s feature debut concerns a thirtysomething woman who poses as her late mother in an effort to become closer to her elderly father who’s suffering from amnesia. Touching on various familial issues regarding loss and reconciliation, I Am I doesn’t quite succeed in translating its provocative premise into compelling drama.

The writer-director also plays the starring role of Rachel, who at her mother’s funeral is startled to discover that Gene (Kevin Tighe), the father who abandoned them when she was just a child, is still alive. She tracks him down to the assisted living facility in which he lives, only to find out that he thinks it’s 1979 and that he’s merely 34 years old. Carefully protecting him in his illusions is his kindly caretaker (Jason Ritter) who looks askance at Rachel’s efforts to jolt her father back to reality.

Unaware that he ever had a daughter, Gene, whose condition is possibly explained by post-traumatic stress from his wartime experiences in Vietnam, assumes Rachel to be his wife, who later got remarried to Rachel's stepfather (Josh Clark) whom Gene now sees as a romantic rival. Desperate to get to know the father she never knew, Rachel goes along with the delusion, pretending to be her mother and even dressing up in ‘70s era bell bottoms. Father and daughter soon proceed to go out on a series of “dates,” with the courtly Gene always behaving with impeccable decorum.

Not surprisingly, this all takes an emotional toll on Rachel, as well as her stepfather, her significantly older husband (James Morrison) and her half-brother (played by Towne’s real-life spouse Simon Helberg of The Big Bang Theory). Clearly, there are a lot of daddy issues to be worked through.

Played as a sensitive drama, the film doesn’t manage to fully exploit the myriad potentialities of its outlandish situation. It lightly touches on its various thematic issues without ever examining them in depth, with the result that it seems more a mere outline than a fully fleshed-out scenario.

Still, the movie does have its share of movingly heartfelt moments, thanks in large part to Tighe’s restrained and touching performance that makes his character’s addled mental state fully convincing without ever lapsing into exploitation. Towne is equally effective at conveying Rachel’s emotional confusion, although her underplaying occasionally borders on tedium.

Production: Present Pictures
Cast: Jocelyn Towne, Kevin Tighe, Jason Ritter, James Morrison, Simon Helberg, Josh Clark, Dawn Didawick
Director/screenwriter: Jocelyn Towne
Producers: Jennifer Dubin, Cora Olson
Executive producers: Simon Helberg, Jocelyn Towne
Director of photography: Andre Lascaris
Editor: Tamara Meem
Production designer: Kat Wilson
Costume designer: Erica Rice
Composers: Alexis marsh, Samuel Jones
No rating, 87 minutes