I’m a prick, Tyler’s not.
— Aidan (Tate Ellington)
Ally (Emilie de Ravin) won’t ride the subway. This probably makes her life a bit expensive, because she takes cabs everywhere — to and from Queens. But her father, a cop named Neil Craig (Chris Cooper), foots the bill without complaint because he knows that when she was 11, she saw her mother (Martha Plimpton) murdered on a subway platform. You know this too, because this trauma constitutes the first scene of Remember Me.
Oddly, once the film flips forward to “10 years later,” no one refers to Dead Mom. Still, her memory shapes Ally’s present, or at least your perception of it: her photos appear in repeated backgrounds and that Ally has not learned her sensible sensitivity from her father, who is inconsistently sympathetic and violent, apparently still traumatized and not dealing with it well. He’s especially put out when Ally finds a boyfriend at college (unnamed), where she’s a remarkably well-adjusted and independent-minded student. Then again, you can see why dad might be worried. The boyfriend, Tyler, is played by Robert Pattinson.
While Remember Me omits the fang-baring and glittering in the sunlight, it yet offers up the business for which Pattinson is apparently adored: he lowers his gaze, he pouts, he parts his lips. Sometimes, he half smiles. And he is always deeply, deeply wounded. Here, Tyler’s own trauma is multifold. Not only did his brother, the much-referred-to Michael, hang himself when he was 21, but Tyler also blames their father, Charles (Pierce Brosnan). As Tyler tells it, gaze lowered, Michael wanted to be a musician, but dad forced him to become an executive (Charles being a Wall Street mucky-muck). Since that terrible day (“I found him!” yelps Tyler during one of several showdowns), the family has been fractured, mom (Lena Olin) remarried (to an ostensibly very nice and strangely very silent guy), and Tyler’s little sister Caroline (Ruby Jerins), feeling pitiful and rejected (“Why doesn’t dad want to listen to me?”).
Tyler makes it his mission in life to protect Caroline, picking her up from school, encouraging her painting, attending her art shows (teachers say she’s good), and grumping at Charles when he fails to be suitably paternal. He has another mission, equally vengeful and more self-destructive, which is playing accomplice to his roommate, the aptly nicknamed “assaholic” Aidan (Tait Ellington).
As much as all this plotting sounds disparate and manufactured, it’s worse when it comes together. Out carousing one evening with his boy, Tyler mouths off to a cop and gets pummeled. Yes, that cop is Craig, and yes, Aidan conjures a scheme to get even. First, who does this? Who plots to get even with cops? And second, who plots to get even with cops by seducing cops’ daughters? For a minute, Tyler acts as f this is a bad idea, and you might even feel relieved. But not for long.
Remember Me proceeds headlong into silly coincidences and colossal symbols, none convincing and all pointing glaringly toward 9/11. Pressing hard on the general theme of “remembering,” the film makes clear that if some memories are persistently painful, they might also be turned into a means to catharsis, or at least a modicum of forgiveness and second chances (not through therapy, per se, but through hot sex involving young men in dirty t-shirts and/or young women in wet ones). Ally, Tyler, and Charles’ 9/11 ends up looking less collective and moving than clumsy and affected.
Regrettably, the end can’t come fast enough. As Tyler and Ally come to like each other, they don’t precisely reveal everything that’s bothering them. They’re both mumbly and sad, even when they’re happy or showing off how literate they are. But they do say just enough that each recognizes in the other a trauma victim, someone who struggles with devastating loss on a daily basis. This is not a terrible idea for a film. It is, however, rendered rather terribly here.