Imagine Me & You: Queer joy and the rom-com

Though many early passions have yielded to time and growth, my adolescent love for rom-coms appears to have weathered the storm.

In my childhood, these films were characterized by a rote interplay between a woman and man, an on-screen wooing that kept me rapt despite the inevitability of its unfolding — the formula was simple and comfortingly predictable. I delighted in the witty banter, the charm, the picture-perfect endings that I was certain were made for me, hopelessly romantic beyond my years. How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Pretty Woman, Notting Hill — all these and more I held close to my heart, wide-eyed at the easy beauty of Kate Hudson and Julia Roberts, the endearing charm of Matthew McConaughey and Hugh Grant.

My affinity for romantic comedies did not diminish as I grew older and my expectations around romantic relationships grew more refined. Although I now understood that the formulaic sequence of events was rarely replicated in life beyond the screen, I took secret pleasure in watching the characters find their way. Whether Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were meeting their happy fates in Sleepless in Seattle or in You’ve Got Mail, I was right there with them, cheering them on through the perils of miscommunication, long-distance dating and corporate wrath.

As I grew more acquainted with myself, however, I was drawn away from the genre out of a perplexing necessity. I’d always known, with the vague intangibility of intuition, that I was attracted to women, but this awareness had remained hazy in my youth without cultural reference to ground it. As my Queer identity began to come into focus, I started to gravitate towards media that reflected it back towards me, turning to characters whose romantic attraction, if not the shape of their journeys, resembled my own.

Films like Desert Hearts and Carol, Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Disobedience all featured lesbian relationships — protagonists whose hungry intimacy and affective touch stirred something in me that had lain dormant through my compulsive rewatchings of heterosexual storylines. Yet the deep, lingering glances between the women — hallmarks of the slow burn — often belied wells of despair. The consummation of their love marked a reckoning with the trauma of their non-normative desire or offered a depiction of lesbian attraction as raw sexuality.

In either case, the somber dramatism of the narrative left little room for the sweet hilarity of emergent love and all its little missteps. The bright, cheery scenes I had grown up loving had been replaced by a darker ambiance — a formula of distress and grappling that found its characters taking deep comfort in one another, but little in much else. I wept for these women, and found a certain joy in doing so. But still I longed to laugh out loud, to see love and levity coexist on-screen once more.

So, like stepping gingerly into an ordinary wardrobe and emerging in Narnia, my first viewing of Imagine Me & You gained me entry into a world aglow with potential — never before had I seen my notion of love affirmed in the language I spoke best.

The 2005 movie takes its title from the first line of the Turtles song “Happy Together,” and channels the dreaminess and charm of the eponymous ‘60s pop hit. Piper Perabo and Lena Headey are charmingly sincere as Rachel and Luce, and I fell in love with their love (at first sight). Luce and Rachel meet, of all places, at Rachel’s wedding to the adorably hapless Hector. The newlyweds strike up a friendship with Luce, their florist, and the two women begin to fall for each other. After a romantic scene in the back room of the flower shop, they decide they cannot betray Hector in entering into a relationship, and their burgeoning romance halts. Luce decides to take a trip out of the country, and Rachel embarks on an urgent journey to catch her before she departs. They kiss triumphantly as “Happy Together” plays on in the background.

Bliss.

Gone were the petticoated women communing on a desolate seaside; here was a tender, funny, moving portrait of two women in love, with an ending that was comfortingly, predictably, predetermined.

The Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus said of the film, “Aside from its lesbian theme, Imagine Me & You can only offer more of the same generic rom-com cliches.” I was struck by the disparaging tone of this take, lamentable in its failure to recognize that in a Queer movie market saturated with solemn period dramas and borderline erotica of the male gaze, generic rom-com cliches might be just what the doctor ordered.

Romantic comedies might be silly, yes, and might simply provide a welcome escape from the horrors of contemporary dating. But despite the simplicity of the formula they often engage, they do the good work of valorizing complexity in human relations. They capture the nuance contained in falling for someone, a process that is always sweet but fraught, at once the easiest thing in the world and the most difficult.

In life, as in art, the obstacles to attaining love can and do include systemic oppression, widespread homophobia and prohibitive policy. They can also be as simple as unfortunate timing, a missed connection or a wildly irreconcilable taste in literature.

Queer people deserve to see themselves in the romantic comedy genre’s offering: a version of the story that simply happens to work out.