Polly (Alice Foulcher) is a struggling actress who between juggling woeful auditions, painfully awkward dates and a disheartening regular job at a local cinema, faces one huge obstacle on her path to stardom. Namely her identical twin sister Amy (Alice Foulcher) who is an already established international superstar. Faced with one rejection and setback after another, with Amy's success constantly thrust in her face, Polly muddles through life clinging desperately to a dream that seems fast slipping away.
Most movies about struggling artists stick to the tried and trusted epithets of persevering through adversity, believing in yourself and never giving up on one's dreams. That's Not Me rather boldly opts for an alternative message. It is a story about growing up and how sometimes part of that process means laying aside youthful dreams and coming to terms with the person we are instead of whom we might want to be. Co-written by lead actress Alice Foulcher, who shares a 'film by' opening title credit with first time director Gregory Erdstein, this bittersweet Australian indie comedy earned glowing reviews on the festival circuit. Most of which singled Foulcher out for praise as a singular new voice in comedy. Deservedly so as her highly engaging and vulnerable performance imbues a fundamentally downbeat, slightly aimless story with a compelling degree of tenderness and compassion. Which puts it a notch above Ricky Gervais' faintly similar account of showbiz losers, the BBC series Extras.
Rather like Gervais' stock in trade, That's Not Me mines black humour from some cringingly well-observed encounters likely to ring true for anyone with a passing familiarity with the entertainment industry or showbiz wannabes. From Polly's meetings with her dishearteningly blunt agent (Janine Watson), awkward dinners with well-meaning but unintentionally insensitive parents (Andrew S. Gilbert and Catherine Hill) to her ill-advised liaison with an horrifically shallow and self-absorbed wannabe actor/theatre director (Rowan Davie) the film's comic set-pieces prove toe-curling in their authenticity. The second half is no less bracing despite shifting the action to sun-drenched L.A. where Polly reconnects with an acting school friend (Isabel Lucas) who takes ill-advised inspiration from Sean Young's infamous bid for the role of Catwoman in Batman Returns (1992) as she attempts to bag the lead in an all-female remake of Jaws! A more traditional comedy would have used this second act detour as the chance to have its harried heroine re-charge her batteries and return with a new zest for life. Instead relocating to L.A. only forces Polly to admit she is way out of her depth and ultimately confront herself, pondering why she even wants to be an actor.
What keeps That's Not Me from being an out-and-out gut-buster is its unflinching dedication to honesty in scene after scene where Erdstein's camera captures Foulcher's genuine look of pain through humiliation upon humiliation, sometimes undone by her own insecurities or poor decisions though on occasion also hobbled by those tragically indifferent to feelings or some cruel quirk of fate. Certainly few struggling actors face a predicament quite as literal as Polly having a more talented twin but more than a few can relate to the experience of having one's self-perceived unique qualities shown up by losing a role to someone just like you - only that little bit better. In other words the twin conceit is a surprisingly potent showbiz allegory. Even when poor Polly tries to take advantage of her resemblance to an international star the results prove calamitous. The film ends on a note that, for many an artist still doggedly pursuing their dreams, will seem unbearably sad but marks a logical conclusion to a refreshingly honest portrait of learning to live with life's setbacks.