If there’s one thing you can glean from director Allen Coulter’s solo commentary track for Remember Me – aside from the fact that it was hard to film around Robert Pattinson’s squealing hoards of fangirls – it’s that he strove for authenticity above all else. He wanted the film to be about real families, living in a real New York City, figuring out what it means to be a real young person starting adulthood at the beginning of this decade.
He succeeds – in some areas more than others – but, unfortunately for Coulter, what comes across more than the authenticity is the effort. It’s as if, in order to get his actors to produce genuine emotion, he instructed his cast to emote them as amplified as possible. The main character is Tyler Hawkings (Pattinson), who, like many 21-year-olds, is directionless in life. However, Pattinson’s is the most overwrought portrayal of directionless-ness, shifting between intense brooding, furious outbursts, and a ponderous voiceover. His counterpart is Ally (Emilie de Ravin), an NYU student who has also mastered the art of leaving a scene in a huff (although, according to Coulter, this is just a byproduct of her tough outer-borough upbringing).
One aspect of these two characters that Coulter really nails is their self-centeredness. “You peddled down here on your bike”, Tyler’s father, Charles Hawkins (Pierce Brosnan), says. “You’ve got to take care of nothing. You’re responsible for no one. You’re a kid”. True, but the point might have landed harder if Brosnan weren’t shouting as he delivered the line, in the film’s most scenery-chewing moment.
Of course, though, those words ring true for many early-twentysomethings. (“They think that they know better than everyone else, but don’t feel the need to prove it in any way whatsoever”, Pattison himself says in a making-of featurette that does a far better job at illuminating the film than the second, half-silent cast commentary.) Beholden to no one, these bright young things all believe that their thoughts are the most interesting; that their problems are more important; and that their worldview is more unique than anyone else’s.
At least, that’s certainly true for Tyler and Ally. They are a bundle of quirky affectations. He works in a used bookstore and re-arranges the books according to the sexual proclivities of the authors! She believes that life is short and disaster can strike at any moment, so she eats desserts before dinner!
Ostensibly, Remember Me is a love story – is this a love story that filmmakers really feel the need to tell? Two self-involved adolescents take the time to see past their own problems and affectations to notice someone else for a brief moment in time?
Otherwise, though, Remember Me has the bones of other, classic courtships. Tyler and Ally are perfect romantic-comedy opposites. He comes from privilege (but realizes the phoniness of it all), wanders through life (unmatriculated in school), and tries to deal with his disinterested father. She’s working-class, wants to be a social worker, and her father is over-protective. The thing that brings them together is also, alas, what makes them insufferable – they both survived past family tragedies, and confuse their survival for wisdom and use it to justify their my-life-is-so-complicated-you-can’t-understand-me attitudes. Sigh.
Unfortunately, there is a “twist” ending – though, if you know it’s coming, it’s thoroughly hinted at – that does little to redeem the characters or their love story. Not going into too much detail (though spoiler-watchers may want to run), the ending is supposed to make the audience realize the film is a small, personal story in a great, collective tragedy. It doesn’t quite work as well as the filmmakers would like, only because it does nothing to resolve the story they’ve been following throughout the film.
When you take the ramifications of the tragedy down to a character level, it just heaps more grief onto a set of characters who were already grieving when the film begins. If the outcome of a second tragedy can, eventually, help heal these people, so be it, but I’m not sure that the ending jibes with the feeling of authenticity the filmmakers were striving so hard for.