Here is the big secret of modern love stories: they aren’t very epic. Modern relationships tend not to function on big moments, the splashy set pieces of romantic comedies that usually involve some giant physical act of love. When couples have fights or break up, their getting back together isn’t predicated on one of them hiring a marching band or making a speech before the other gets on a plane. People get into and out of relationships without the world necessarily ending. In real life, romance is only part of the larger equation, and things like family and self-actualization can and often do take precedence over relationships. The strength of modern love stories stems from the intimacy they afford, the unquantifiable but familiar chemistry that grows between two people as they simply get woven into a single fabric. Remember Me appears to be aware of this, for the most part, building a love story between two people without making it seem like it’s the most important thing in the world.
But then it takes a really wrong turn. The last ten or so minutes of this film completely unravel the subtle, familiar romance they’ve built in this film, forcing pathos where none is warranted. Taken apart from its misguided twist, Remember Me is solid, if a bit loose. Taken as a whole, it’s more than a little baffling.
The movie follows Tyler (Robert Pattinson), a twenty-one year old New Yorker with a chip on his shoulder and no direction in life. He blames his father’s cold ways for his older brother’s suicide. One night, he ends up in lockup after badgering a police detective at the scene of a fight he tried to break up. Tyler’s best friend learns that the arresting detective has a daughter, Ally (Emile de Ravin), and suggests that Tyler get some revenge by getting to know her.
It’s a hacky set up, to be sure. But things start clicking when all the pretense is put away and the two are simply made to be with each other. The strength of Remember Me is in treating the central relationship as only part of the character’s lives. Their being together doesn’t make the world a better place. It doesn’t even necessarily make them better people. It mostly portrays the relationship as a source of happiness, an added shelter against the generally downcast skies of modern life. The film does teeter towards melodrama, but director Allen Couter keeps the relationship pretty reined in, leaving most outbursts to the other portions of the characters’ lives.
And then the twist. The last ten minutes are dedicated to a reveal that isn’t at all earned, and seems simply tacked on to give the story a sense of pathos. Up to this point, the story was dedicated to small things, and the big emotions that can come from them. And then we hit this narrative speed bump, a palpable big thing in a contextual sense, and everything just grinds to a halt. Some will gasp. Mostly, eyes will roll. It feels like a blatant bid for weight and sympathy, pandering to old wounds to provide some sense of relevance to the larger world. Whatever they had built in the last hour or so of two young people falling in love is pretty much blown away. The movie just wasted our time.
It does a disservice to the chemistry built between the leads. Robert Pattinson channels James Dean in the role, and it mostly works out for him. He’s built to brood, and while his performance suffers when he attempts to reach higher emotions, his neutral expressions exude a natural magnetism. Emile de Ravin is bright and lovely, and plays off Pattinson really well. She’s got plenty of spark, and it serves as a good contrast to Pattinson’s default demeanor. Though perhaps a tad too familiar, Chris Cooper and Pierce Brosnan perform solidly in their dad roles as well.
The mistake Remember Me makes is in mistaking remembrance for relevance, and largeness with substance. Had it simply stuck to the characters and their small concerns, it might have made for a far more resonant film, even if the story wasn’t the most important one in the world. Instead, it makes a bid for importance, screaming for attention and sympathy. All hell breaks loose, the tight emotions unravel, and the modern love story is once again made to ring false.