If I Were You: Film Review

Harden Heading West
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“L.A. offers a great lifestyle for a mother,” says Marcia Gay Harden, the mom of three kids under 12, who plays a grandmother in the pilot for ABC's "Smothered." Plus, a multicam sitcom means she wouldn’t have to travel for work. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Despite a terrific starring turn by Marcia Gay Harden, this tired sex farce fails to induce laughs.

Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden plays a wife who schemes to derail her husband's affair with a younger woman.

A modern cinematic equivalent of the sort of tired sex farces that used to populate Broadway with regularity, If I Were You simultaneously exploits and squanders the talents of its star, Marcia Gay Harden. The Oscar-winning actress shines as a wife who discovers her husband is cheating on her and then strikes up a duplicitous friendship with his mistress, but the material she’s given is so flaccid and bloated that both laughs and drama are sadly missing.

The story begins with Madelyn (Harden) accidentally coming up on her husband Paul (Joseph Kell) and the much younger Lucy (Leonor Watling) sharing an obviously romantic restaurant dinner. Through circumstances too convoluted to recount, Madelyn winds up saving her rival from a suicide attempt, with the unwitting, grateful young woman promptly suggesting that they become best friends and agree to consult each other before making any major decisions. Sensing an opening that would enable her to derail the affair, Madelyn agrees. Hilarity fails to ensue.

The overlong proceedings are loaded down with an egregious surplus of unconvincing subplots, including the new BFFs getting cast in an amateur production of King Lear, with non-actress Madelyn playing Lear, no less; Madelyn’s fending off the advances of her lovestruck boss (Gary Piquer), whose wife (Valerie Mahaffey) becomes suspicious; Paul becoming crazed at the thought that Madelyn is turning the tables and cheating on him; and Madelyn’s having sex with a handsome stranger (a charmingly relaxed Aidan Quinn) at the nursing home where both of their parents have just died.

It’s easy to understand why Harden was attracted to her role, since Madelyn both conveys deep anguish and drops witty one-liners with abandon. And the actress makes the most of it, delivering a richly multi-faceted performance that includes some juicy drunk scenes. But director/screenwriter Joan Carr-Wiggin displays no sense of comic rhythm, and her attempts to infuse pathos into the storyline merely drag it down even more.  Particularly unfortunate are the clichéd scenes concerning the theatrical troupe — the director is, gasp, a pretentious twit — which mainly come across as a tired rip-off of the similar plot element in Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl.

Opens March 15 (Kino Lorber)

Production: Paragraph Picture Inc., TallTree Pictures

CAST: Marcia Gay Harden, Leonor Watling, Joseph Kell, Aidan Quinn, Valerie Mahaffey, Gary Piquer, Michael Therriault

Director/screenwriter: Joan-Carr Wiggin

Producers: David Gordian, Alan Latham

Executive producers: Vito Bianchini, Luciano Drigo, Peter Bates, Kirsty Bell, Vince Woods

Director of photography: Bruce Worrall

Editor: Elizabeth Cotter

Production designer: Aidan Leroux

Costume designer: Brenda Broer

Composer: Paolo Buonvino

Rated R, 115 min.