I only own a handful of romantic comedies (at least, making exceptions for the ones that are masquerading as other things, like Shaun of the Dead) despite the fact that I'm a softie at heart, and have difficulty shrugging at romantic sentiment. I've seen far, far more than a handful through the clever use of leaving the television on, but since I stopped watching television around three years ago, I've seen very, very few of them. Grand, artsy romances, sure, broken and twisted ones--absolutely. Movies that have romance? Oh yes. But straight-on romantic comedy based around a gimmick? Not in some years now.
But, as you might guess from this context, yes, that's what we have here. We open to find Pamela Drury (Rachel Griffiths) as successful journalist, working on an article on modern girls, and their desires, aspirations and dreams, with awards piled up to the point of eye-rolling clutter on her part, and self-affirmations taped all around her bathroom. We pan down to see a photo of a handsome devil, and soon we see him in person, across a dinner table. He doesn't quite look as airbrushed, he seems a little nervous, and is talking about how normally if he approached a woman she'd think he was a sleaze, but he wasn't, and it was completely normal for people to use personal advertisements (...aha!) and so on and so forth, rambling on and on. We cut to hear the familiar sounds of sex, panning across the clothes strewn across the floor and on up to Pamela....still in her dress, drinking straight from the bottle and watching porn. Clever, I must say. Certainly not what we are expecting (even as we are not particularly enthused about who she was just with), and even more a bit of a feminist inversion of overall expectation, which was a very pleasant surprise.
She begins going through the boxes littering her apartment, and begins tossing off photos one by one from a pile--"misogynist...loser...dental surgeon..." and so on, until she finally rests on Robert Dickson, and wonders how she ever let him go. We next see her in the park with her friend Terri, pushing her son in a stroller. Pamela is bemoaning her single life, saying she "should have been married with two kids by now," with Terri looking at her like she's grown a third arm as she says this. "But, you hate kids," she tells her. "What has that got to do with it?" Pamela says, holding Terri's son Otto in her lap in the most amusingly ignorant sort of way--at arm's length and not very carefully. We can see that this Pamela is not, for all her desire, terribly well-suited to the family life as she is.
She meets someone in the course of her work is an attractive man with a good outlook who happens to know and appreciate her writing. She decides to ask him out, and manages to discover him with a woman and children. Terribly depressed, she finds the best solution is to just end everything, because she is infused with the societal belief that family is the goal of life. She fails--of course, this is a romantic comedy--in a fairly amusing fashion, and spends most of the next day rather surly; she ends up wandering away from an evangelical survey taker, angrily, and does not see the car that hits her. She's not sure what has happened when she opens her eyes to see herself looking down and asking if she's all right.
Strangely, she has run herself over. This woman is her; the same name, appearance, and they even share memories as they test each other's recollection of events. Only this Pamela didn't turn Robert down, and is now Pamela Dickson, with three children. Drury finds herself unexpectedly left alone in this life she has been wishing for, with Pamela Dickson no longer anywhere to be found.
What's interesting here (the essential plot was re-used in the Nicolas Cage flick The Family Man, which, yes, I did see, and enjoyed well enough) is that we're seeing it from a female protagonist's point of view, and the hardships of the relationship she has wandered into the middle of are not simple, easily overcome, or changed simply by her fresh outlook. We can see that it's not the perfect solution to her life; she's used to being her own woman, and it's difficult to lose almost all of that to four other people in her life. It doesn't play out exactly how you might expect, though it all makes perfect sense in the end for the characters.
Certainly my favourite part of the plot is that this alternate universe is never explained or clarified; it's not necessary for Don Cheadle to mysteriously appear and "offer" Pamela this other life, she just stumbles into it with no warning. What some writers don't seem to understand is that simple fact--this is not something we expect to happen. As long as you show that the characters are thoroughly mystified by it, we don't need to know why it happened or who caused it or anything like that. What matters is that it DID happen in the film--let's move on.
As with most romantic comedies, though, it's not a movie I'm jumping up and down to suggest people just "need" to see. There's nothing terribly new here, but it's quite entertaining, and I'm a sucker for Aussie accents. Yes, Rachel is in her natural element this time--unlike her more famous role as Brenda on Six Feet Under--and is not hiding behind an accent that is not hers (though it's sort of mind-bending when you're used to her having an American accent and you keep thinking she's screwing up her actual one, when, it's her actual one) and we get to just revel in a good actor playing with simple material. Without a huge gigantic message or serious drama behind it (though there's a very interesting tug-of-war between individuality and family here that doesn't seem to get addressed often--it seems to be one or the other, despite the fact that the balance is more relevant to reality) she can just get into the part. I think I found myself at one point thinking more of whether Pamela Drury could easily masquerade as mother than whether Rachel was successfully acting the part. A few moments later I realized I'd been neatly drawn into the world and was thoroughly pleased--that's the best feeling, when you are just drawn in, even if it's just a pleasant diversion.