A wannabe French-style infidelity farce that keeps indulging in unnecessary bathos and subplots, If I Were You might have been a small, unassuming jaunt had it wisely shaved 30 minutes from its bloated runtime. As such, however, Joan Carr-Wiggin’s film is a lumpy creation, unaware that treating its characters’ sorrows and triumphs too seriously requires the very type of dramatic effort that neuters its comedic verve. The amorous shenanigans at play are set in motion by the unexpected discovery at a local restaurant by Madelyn (Marcia Gay Harden) that her husband, Paul (Joseph Kell), is having an affair with hot young Lucy (Leonor Watling). Madelyn’s calls to Paul ignite a fight that sends a tearful Lucy to attempt suicide by hanging, which spurs the kindhearted Madelyn to save the girl from death. Without revealing her true identity, Madelyn befriends Lucy and—more preposterous still—strikes up a “pact” in which each woman will call the other before making any big decision about their romantic dilemmas.
It’s a ludicrous scenario initially enlivened by Madelyn’s perpetual boozing boozing, a coping mechanism that Harden turns into a rollicking excuse to roll her eyes and toss off at once exasperated and stunned bon mots with amusing flair. As evidenced by an early shot of Madelyn quietly weeping on her porch, however, If I Were You isn’t content to simply use its premise for whirligig comedy; rather, it also intends to make its various characters three-dimensional. That objective drags the material down into torpor, given that it requires drawing the action out to unreasonable lengths, replete with Madelyn inadvertently getting cast in the lead role of a local production of King Lear opposite aspiring actress Lucy’s Fool.
Between making Paul believe she’s cheating, a co-worker (Gary Piquer) who’s pursuing her, the suspicion of that guy’s wife (Valier Mahaffey), and a charming stranger (Aidan Quinn) with whom she has sex at the nursing home where her mother dies, Madelyn’s saga is overstuffed with complications that rarely generate much actual humor. By packing her story so full, Carr-Wiggin weighs down what should be light, frothy silliness, a problem compounded by the underlying issues of loyalty and mortality that eventually crowd their way into far too many conversations. Harden is a consistent joy throughout, exuding a flustered “How is this my life?” disbelief that carries more than one elongated scene through its bumpier patches. Her supporting cast, alas, is functional at best—far shrewder would have been to pair her opposite a genre pro like Daniel Auteuil.