I Am I begins with a parallel of two characters: writer/director Jocelyn Towne as “Rachel,” reeling from the loss of her mother Sarah and “Gene,” (Kevin Tighe) an elderly man in a nursing home. We get to know both of them from the feet up, with the camera alternating back and forth between the two of them. As Gene’s mental health is failing – he believes he is a 34-year-old man and the year is 1974 – caregiver “Jonathan” (Jason Ritter) inadvertently informs him of Sarah’s passing. Gene somehow manages to escape the ditzy receptionist and disappears from the nursing home en route to the funeral.
After distraught Rachel gives a bizarre, inappropriate eulogy where she laughs through her grief, Gene appears at the cemetery. Although he knows he’s there for Sarah’s funeral, he somehow thinks Rachel is, in fact, Sarah herself. Caregiver Jonathan shows up to take Gene back to the nursing home and gives Rachel his contact information. And soon enough, Rachel arrives at Gene’s door, asking, “Who do you think I am?” Gene says, of course, “You’re Sarah.” He does not understand that it is his daughter… not his wife. The realization that her father believes her to be Sarah provides clarification for how Gene and Rachel relate.
Kevin Tighe gives a strong performance as Gene, as do the other male (albeit limited) roles. Unfortunately, Jocelyn Towne cannot quite carry the weight of Rachel. But overall, I Am I is a surprisingly moving story. Coming from my own experience, it is true to the experience of dementia. It respects the fact that you have to be in the moment with that person and you do not get anywhere by trying to be rational or be factual. You have to experience it with them at their cognitive level. The remainder of film finds Rachel impersonating Sarah so she can get to know Gene, obviously complicating things as the story moves forward. But for all the coincidences and the manufactured components, Towne’s screenplay is very touching.
Photo: Kevin Tighe as “Gene” with Jocelyn Towne as his estranged daughter “Rachel”
Photo Credit: © 2014 – Gravitas Ventures
Q: Does I Am I pass the Bechdel Test?