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Me, Myself, I

Review by Jerry White
Posted 7 April 2000

Written and Directed by Philippa Karmel 

Starring Rachel Griffiths, 
David Roberts, Sandy Winton, 
Yael Stone ,Shaun Loseby, 
and Trent Sullivan

Australian Pip Karmel's first feature Me Myself I sure means well. Indeed, as an attempt to evoke the impossible choices that defines middle class life, it's a welcome little melodrama that many thritysomethings will no doubt find both familiar and cathartic. But like that famed, unspeakably irritating American TV show, this film never really gets beyond the self-absorption of its main character Pamela (Rachel Griffiths), and, by extension, of its writer/director Karmel. Me Myself I treats these little interpersonal crises as something new and original; our otherwise bright protagonist truly seems never to have thought about them. Treating the kinds of fundamental decisions that thoughtful people spend their whole lives wrestling with as something that just occurs to you when your in your mid-30s is, alas, a screaming indication that, apparently even in Australia, the chickens of terminal, materialist self-absorption are finally starting to come home to roost. The film's obliviousness to this basic fact in favor of an unambiguous sympathy for Pamela makes Me Myself I rough viewing at times.

The film opens with Pamela spending another dull night at home alone, after another long, passionate day spent as a successful journalist. She pours a glass of wine and begins to reminisce about former boyfriends, asking herself the inevitable set of "what if" questions that her seemingly terminal loneliness constantly dredges up. One of them, Robert, sticks in her mind most clearly, and it's not long before she finds herself in an alternate universe, where the two are married and have three kids. Of course this marriage and motherhood business turns out to be a whole lot harder than she ever would have guessed; the kids turn out to be really very difficult and I daresay bratty, and it seems that her marriage has been decidedly sizzle-free for some time. She works hard at coming to grips with all of this, though, and by the end of the film finds that she's undergone some serious personal transformation.

But this transformation has an almost eerie, hollow quality to it. Part of this, no doubt, is because Karmel's writing talents just aren't up to the task of evoking these quandaries; a great deal of the dialogue seems forced, and overall Karmel insists on trucking us through some very familiar problems that raising kids and living in the suburbs presents. The sequence where her daughter gets her first period is surprisingly effective; no sentimentality, lots of angry crying, and not all that much said by either one of them. Alas, for every one of scenes like this one there are a dozen that just fall flat the first scene between Pamela and Robert in the proverbial marriage bed is a good example: guess what when she leans over to kiss him (she's still reeling from his long-lost-now-found-boyfriend status) he's exhausted and not much interested in romance. Too much of the film just feels hopelessly roadworn.

Further, Pamela's utter shock at the difficulties of family life suggests that she hasn't spend a single moment thinking clearly about these kinds of choices, which seems odd for someone who is seen to be so obsessive about these kinds of choices and not a very realistic portrait of the way that these kinds of decisions get made. Indeed, for a movie that presents itself as being about Real Life and Tough Choices, its main character is, before her child-inspired transformation, astonishingly vapid. One scene, which actually struck me as funny at the time, serves as a perfect example of the utter, impossible-to-believe stupidity of this career woman whose crises we're supposed to identify with. She takes the chillins to the grocery store, and drops into the shopping cart the smallish carton of milk that, we are led to assume was her standard ration. A woman next to her piles in several large jugs of milk, and Pamela remarks that she must have quite a brood. Yep, the woman smiles warmly, two boys and a girl! Pamela smiles back, and slowly realizes that this also describes her household, and figures she may need a little, no maybe a whole lot, more milk. Now come on; are we really supposed to believe that she has no idea that three kids will drink more milk, than a single bachelorette? Maybe you're thinking I'm taking this too literally. But if this sequence is supposed to have some sort of metaphorical value, using milk to draw our attention to how different Pamela's life now is and not meant to be taken so realistically, then it is a metaphor of fairly hammer-like power that makes her look like such a fool that it becomes hard to take her very seriously when the films more "realistic" or "ambiguous" moments come rolling around.

Maybe that's my biggest gripe with Me Myself I: it's a totally uneven movie. The film's dramatic elements are never developed enough to make them effective, partially because the film insists on relapsing into comedy on order to show us how warm, wonderful and painful it all can be. Further, Karmel seems to be insisting that Rachel's big problem is that she wants it all, but then at the end of the film pulls up and refuses to really force her to decide between one of these two options that are dangled before her eyes.

Me Myself I has got some good stuff going for it. Rachel Griffiths (who was also in My Son The Hero) is a solid actress with a good work ethic; she muddles along with even the most hackneyed dialogue and struggles valiantly to breathe some life into the most tired situations. So when Griffiths is allowed to spread out a little and evoke some real ambiguity (which does happen from time to time) it comes as something of a shock. When the occasional shining through of what it clearly the film's main purpose seems so surprising, you know you're in the hands of a first-time filmmaker without the confidence or experience to make something really resonant or thoughtfully assembled.

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