Jocelyn Towne writes, directs and stars in this middling dramedy about a daughter trying to connect with her amnesia-ridden dad.
“I Am I” is a middling dramedy starring writer-director Jocelyn Towne as a woman who discovers that her long-lost biological father is not only living nearby, but also in an amnesia-induced past where he insists she is her own recently deceased mother. This potentially intriguing concept is given disappointingly bland, flat treatment in the Kickstarter-funded project, in which Towne brings professionalism but little personality to both her on- and offcamera roles. Already released to VOD, the smallscreen-suited pic is unlikely to stir much interest in its limited theatrical bow starting June 13.
We meet tightly wound Rachael (Towne) just after the passing of her mother — one perhaps more controlling than loving, as the daughter’s borderline-hysterical eulogy unintentionally suggests. In the cemetery afterward, she’s startled to meet Gene (Kevin Tighe), the father who apparently abandoned them when she was just an infant. We later learn he was a Vietnam vet whose escalating PTSD drove him to attempt suicide; noting that he “wasn’t fit to be a father,” he went unheard from for decades. Unbeknownst to Rachael, he was found at a VA hospital and placed by her mother in a nearby elderly facility more than a year ago. Presumably her mom and her stepfather (Josh Clark) were going to inform her when, and if, Gene got better.
He’s certainly happy to see her, though it takes a little while to realize that this is because he thinks it’s 1979, he’s still 34 (as opposed to sixtysomething), and she’s the ex-wife he wants to woo back. His selective memory loss has obliterated the fact that they have a child. Somewhat unconvincingly announcing, “If this is the only way I can get to know him, I will take what I can get,” Rachael abets his delusions by dressing in Mom’s vintage platforms and bell-bottoms, and revisiting places they used to go together.
Fortunately, Gene is a very courtly suitor, apologetic about past sins, so his behavior in this weird role play doesn’t get into incest territory. Still, Rachael’s stepfather, as well as her considerably more mature husband (James Morrison), become concerned over her absences and lies as she spends more and more time with this unstable figure.
The story could have been treated in any number of ways, mined for black comedy, suspense and/or queasy romance. But as director and scenarist, Towne hews to a rather tepid seriocomic middle ground that simply isn’t very interesting. Various promising character issues — such as daddy-deprived Rachael’s telltale preference for “older men” — are raised but left underexplored. Ditto the supporting roles, including a sympathetic caregiver (Jason Ritter), a comic-relief nurse (Angela Paton) and Rachael’s half-brother (Simon Helberg, Towne’s husband).
Tighe limns Gene’s genuine regret and ersatz youthfulness in a persuasively unshowy, likable turn. But Towne’s central figure is colorless — we get that Rachael has kept her emotions in check from an absent father and judgmental mother all these years, yet she’s meant to be blossoming under Dad’s belated (and somewhat misguided) attention, and neither the screenplay nor the actress makes very much of a shift that should be the film’s emotional crux.
While solidly pro on a slim budget of just over $100,000, the production lacks any notable stylistic personality, further underlining the innocuousness of its take on a tale that could have benefited from more assertive choices in general.