Fate sticks its foot out to trip all the characters in all the worst ways in “Remember Me,” a grave romantic drama with grandiose thematic intentions. Framed in a portentous manner with a calamitous ending that will only come as a surprise to those who haven’t been paying attention, the modestly scaled film delivers some moving and affecting moments amid a preponderance of scenes of frequently annoying people behaving badly. It is precisely the young female fans of star Robert Pattinson who will react most wrenchingly to this doomed romance, which should enjoy a short but sweet B.O. life.
Pattinson is in heavy James Dean mode here as a reckless, unwashed, chain-smoking, intensely confused pretty boy named Tyler who, as Dean did in “East of Eden” and “Rebel Without a Cause,” has major father issues. Turning his back, at least for the moment, on his family’s wealth — dad Charles (Pierce Brosnan) is a mighty Wall Street lawyer, while classy mom Diane (Lena Olin) has remarried and is raising precocious 11-year-old artist Caroline (Ruby Jerins) — Tyler rooms with crude low-life Aidan (Tate Ellington) while occasionally attending NYU classes between drinking bouts.
On a dare, Tyler hits on hot little classmate Ally (Emilie de Ravin), a working-class Queens lass who’s the only daughter of a cop (Chris Cooper) who recently threw Tyler in jail after a drunken brawl outside a nightclub. As revealed in the mortifying opening scene, Ally, as a little girl, witnessed her mother’s murder on an elevated subway platform; she and Tyler are thus able to morbidly bond over lost loved ones, since his own older brother committed suicide on his 22nd birthday — and Tyler’s 22nd is just around the corner.
As if this weren’t enough ominous emotional baggage for one movie, there’s plenty more, from the pain little Caroline feels from being ignored by her absent father to the story’s overarching historical setting; suffice it to say that the action, as announced at the outset, is set in 2001.
Debuting screenwriter Will Fetters structures the drama so that Tyler’s and Ally’s love affair, mostly conducted in the former’s squalid apartment, might seem like an escape from, and potential purgative of, the jagged emotions that plague them both. Unfortunately, the romance never feels intense or deep enough to fully serve this purpose; director Allen Coulter would have achieved a significantly greater connection had he been able to sweep the viewer up in the heady feeling of two wounded people falling hopelessly in love for the first time and trying, but failing, to prevent the other forces in their lives from gnawing away at their fleeting happiness.
This atmosphere of temporary escape never translates into desired privileged moments, partly because the lovers must share their nest with Aidan, one of the most gratingly obnoxious roommates ever invented. Whenever he turns up, you just want him to get lost, and matters aren’t helped by Ellington, who adamantly delivers most of his inane remarks at the top of his voice, as if that’s the only way he can get anyone to listen to him. It’s painful.
Then there’s the matter of Pattinson’s opaqueness. No one could deny that the actor is very watchable, but he’s also either incapable of or coy about letting anyone get inside what he’s feeling. One needs to palpably feel Tyler’s turmoil, which at times, particularly when his father disappoints Caroline most callously, nearly eats him alive. Tyler and Ally once or twice become physically rambunctious but never get carried away, resulting in less-than-fulsome viewer investment in their relationship.
Best known for her six seasons on “Lost,” de Ravin registers well with an agreeably assertive screen presence. Beautiful in some shots and almost ordinary-looking in others, the diminutive Aussie thesp has a chameleonlike presence that calls to mind a cross between Julie Christie and Samantha Morton. Cooper nails the fear and frustration of a limited man who’s already lost one significant woman in his life and senses he’s about to lose another. Brosnan concisely registers the frosty and seemingly unthawable outer layer of a downtown titan.
Even if you know, or think you know, what’s coming at the end, the emotional undertow is hard to resist and is of a piece with the picture’s articulated philosophical position about doing all one can during one’s brief moment on earth. Gotham locations are evocatively but unostentatiously used, Marcelo Zarvos’ fine score stirs added emotional turbulence, and tech contributions are more than solid.