Life Swapping 

Rachel Griffiths gives us a cuddly dingbat's search for self

Although its themes are about as revelatory as those of the average Cathy comic strip, there's something irrefutably charming about Philippa "Pip" Karmel's debut feature, Me Myself I. The editor of Academy darling Shine has scripted a laundry list of woman's woes, added a subtle Twilight Zone twist, and turned Rachel Griffiths loose to frolic through the domestic obstacle course. The result is an engaging romp nestled somewhere between Nora Ephron and Neil Simon, though smarter and less cloying than either.

Coming off the passion of Hilary and Jackie and the lighter romance of Among Giants, Griffiths manages to infuse her role of single journalist Pamela Drury with giddy freshness, as if she's just tottered out of the shower onto the set. Entering her 30s and beset by standard-issue biological and domestic concerns that seem, to her, terribly surprising, Pamela is otherwise a model of relative success: a cosmopolitan professional with her own fixer-upper loft in Sydney, Australia. There's only one problem: She ain't got no loverman, and the nights get cold. If only she hadn't turned down old flame Robert Dixon (David Roberts) when he proposed 13 years earlier.

Given the do-or-die priority of absolute autonomy in Pamela's life, it's not surprising that she's stuck in a spiritual rut. Her home is a mess of halfhearted Martha Stewart attempts, she can't be bothered to cook, and her bathroom is a shrine of tacky meditational adages. Thus, she loves and approves of herself, she is one with all life, she deserves and accepts the best . . . and her emotions are about as balanced as the national budget.

An office birthday party, with a svelte stripper wiggling his crotch in her face, fans Pamela's flame and lands her an awful date through the personal ads. Supposing she should be happily married with two kids by this stage, she's shocked each day anew to learn that she isn't.

Me Myself I is a romantic comedy, of course, so only a modicum of misery is allowed, but one early scene seems to capture its essence perfectly. Alone with her soy milk and some porn, Pamela sits on the floor, discarding photographs of lovers past, regarding each with palpable scorn. "Bastard," she spits as they are destroyed. "Coward, misogynist, commitmentphobe." Given this bottled-up venom, it's almost a relief when, soon after, an ornery Bible thumper provokes her into traffic, where she is nailed by a car and wakes up, literally, beside herself. Now there are two Pamelas (both played by Griffiths), and the slightly calmer and wearier one transports the tense and coolly coiffed one home . . . to the suburban home the married Pamela inhabits. When the children arrive home from school, the second Pamela bolts, leaving the first to manage a house without so much as an instruction manual.

In case you're wondering, the answer is yes, this is basically a variation on The Double Life of Sliding Freaky Friday Doors. However, despite sharing a lack of plausible explanation with those split-ego flicks, Me Myself I isn't balanced in its concern with both sides of the equation. Once Pamela Two is gone, it's entirely up to Pamela One to make sense of the situation. The challenge is just beginning at this point, because Pamela quickly learns that motherhood often has little to do with delicacy, elegance, and romance.

Overall, the movie is ambitious in scope and humble in execution, held together by Griffiths's wonderfully expressive face, which can shift in a blink from homely (in the best way) to glamorous. This gift is illustrated once Pamela's slogged through her swamp of issues and returns to a new balance not so unlike where she started. When Griffiths finally beams at the world outside her window, it becomes clear that the litany of insults she chanted over her former lovers was really an appraisal of herself. Her former self.

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