A bewildered woman, Luce (Lena Headey), leans against the ladder in the back of her flower shop, trying to understand what just happened and why her new friend, slash maybe not just a friend, Rachel (Piper Perabo), stormed out.
But before she can finish her thought, let out a moan, or cry, Rachel rushes back into the room, grabs Luce by her coat and kisses her. Suddenly, the tension that has been building over the last 57 minutes of screen time boils over and the two women who have danced around one another and their mutual attraction fall passionately into one another’s arms.
As they kiss on a bed of roses and lilies, Luce runs her fingers across Rachel’s lips, taking a moment to meditate on her beauty before kissing her again. Suddenly, a thorn sticks Luce in her bum and the two burst into laughter—that light, airy laughter, not of two people doing something wrong, but of two people doing something oh-so-right. The only thing that can ruin this moment does: Rachel’s husband, Hector, walks into the front of the flower shop.
Their reverie, their connection, their first attempt at loving one another (and Rachel’s first romantic encounter with a woman) shatters as Luce helps Hector pick out flowers for Rachel while Rachel listens to Hector ask Luce what he’s doing wrong in his marriage. It’s not just awkward—it’s devastating. Rachel never wanted to hurt Hector, didn’t follow her heart, broke things off, all because she didn’t want to hurt him. She simply cannot stand the damage she is doing to him and crawls out of the back window of the shop.
Typical romcom theatrics take over from there, but don’t worry, everything ends the way viewers have hoped it would from the very first moment Luce and Rachel meet eyes at Rachel’s wedding.
Imagine Me & Youis not serious cinema—it’s not even particularly good cinema. The film made very little money, $533,944, and received a poor rating on Rotten Tomatoes (33% on the Tomatometer). In many ways, it was nothing more than a typical early 2000 romcom filled with Piper Perabo’s iffy accent and more romantic clichés than most people can stand.
But to me, Imagine Me & Youprovided a gateway to understanding my own queerness.
I can remember being 20, so far back in the closet I was brushing up against my grandmother’s real (fake) furs, and seeing Rachel and Luce’s relationship onscreen for the first time. The way Luce’s fingers caressed Rachel’s lips blew my mind. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen women kiss, I was in college after all, but it was the first time I had seen two femme queer women kiss for their own pleasure, for themselves. The gentle gesture of stopping a make out session to stroke one’s fingers over the lips of another, the implication of a clear intention to kiss this person, to love these lips—sweet Cersei—I learned new dimensions of my passion and sexuality in that moment.
And, I think that’s why this film matters so much: because it is both unabashedly a romcom and unabashedly femme.
The romantic comedy aspects are almost formulaic. Of course, we get a meet cute and the HEA, Happily Ever After, but throughout the film, romantic comedy tropes abound. Rachel and Luce seem as much an unlikely couple as a fated one. Rachel’s family is quirky, Luce’s mom is depressed but trying to date again, and their friends are horny purveyors of comic relief. Of course, tropes are also inverted. Instead of the film beginning with a breakup or divorce, it begins with a wedding, an ill-fated wedding we understand, but a wedding nonetheless.
One of the biggest critiques of Imagine Me & Youat the time of release was that it was a typical romcom, except for some “lesbian elements.” But, that’s also one of its greatest strengths. Don’t queer folks deserve fun, digestible films as well? And, with the resurgence of the romcom, heralded by Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Set It Up, isn’t it high time we revisited Imagine Me & You?
It’s all the more important to have a light, accessible film featuring two queer female leads because there are so few queer female romances depicted in film, let alone in mainstream cinema. When they are depicted, what we see are frequently stories about tragedy, assault, and death. Furthermore, there are even fewer films that focus on relationships between femme queer women—without pulling a Chasing Amy and making it all about straight men.
When I found Imagine Me & You it was a lifeline. It showed me women who looked like me, one of whom was just discovering the complexity of her sexuality after marrying a man. If she could come out, maybe so could I.
My coming out experience wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I didn’t find the love of my life the second I was out of the closet and my parents didn’t suddenly accept me and want to join PFLAG. It was a lonely experience and one that changed me as a person.
What I never got in my life, I could get from a film. Where my life was heavy, Imagine Me & You was light as a feather. Where my parents became weird about talking about my romantic partners, Rachel’s dad told her to follow her heart. Where the first woman I fell in love with swore she was straight, Rachel and Luce found each other. And, as I grew from my first love to my second to my third and so on, Imagine Me & Youmatured with me, showing me how to find ways to enjoy the levity and ecstasy of being queer.
Despite everything I’ve said thus far, Imagine Me & You is not pure fluff. A subtle political agenda is also folded into the narrative, most of which is carried by Luce.
In the 2005 film, marriage equality exists in the UK, though in reality it wasn’t until 2013 that the UK legalized marriage equality (and 2015 for the US). Imagine Me & You offered a vision of life after the fight for marriage equality, a life where Luce, a lesbian woman, was allowed to be herself and where Rachel was allowed to explore her sexuality. They weren’t simply fighting for basic rights. (Not that marriage equality is the only or even most important right LGBTQ+ folks fight for.)
Additionally, Luce spends much of the film avoiding the advances and rage of straight men, particularly Hector’s best friend, Coop. He pursues Luce, even after he learns that she’s a lesbian, and when he figures out that Rachel has fallen in love with Luce, he confronts Rachel, towering over her much smaller frame, his anger seething through his words. To him, Luce is only prey or an enemy. While these moments are short and tangential to the narrative, Luce’s experiences elucidate what many a queer woman already knows—if you’re not available, you’re in danger.
Even Rachel’s story gets to be political. Her sexuality is never explicitly labeled, and we do see her in relationships with a man and a woman. Her ability to follow love without regard for gender rang true to me and helped me come into my own bisexual and queer identities.
As Rachel struggled with her feelings for Luce, I saw my own journey reflected. Here was this woman, who had assumed she was straight for all her life, finding out that she was deeply attracted to a queer woman she had just met. Even the way she at first excused her attraction to Luce as simple friendship felt like a reflection of my own experience. I had fallen head over heels for a rugby teammate and the rush of attraction and hormones and giggles made me feel insane. It was seeing Rachel realize the authenticity of what she felt that made me realize I deserved to follow my attraction, too.
Imagine Me & Youis not above reproach. There are many problematic elements, all of which seem indicative of our society en masse, or indicative of writer and director Ol Parker specifically, rather than the characters themselves. Viewers are compelled to and do feel sorrow for Hector, a straight white stock broker who is doing just fine, thank you very much. Luce deals with Coop’s constant advances with bemused laughter. Overall, Coop is a completely unredeemable character who is humanized in the post-credit scenes when he’s shown holding a baby, seemingly a daughter. Barf. The list goes on. In many ways, Imagine Me & You seems a straight person’s queer film. But, when I thought I was straight, it was also the film that helped me see that I might not be the person I thought I was.
I’ve found that even as other great details of the film fade, including Rachel’s cute little sister and her friendship with Luce, there is one moment I can recall to memory in an instant: Luce’s fingers on Rachel’s lips, a momentary pause for worship. When I was single, that image was a sign of hope. When I was in bad relationships, it was a nagging feeling that I needed to be elsewhere. And, now that I’ve found my partner, it’s a reminder to cherish this person and love these lips.
Imagine Me & You may not be a great film, but it was the first film in which I saw myself onscreen and it helped me believe I could have love and be loved, too.