Apparently, millions of Twilight-obsessed tweens and teens were right about one thing: Robert Pattinson does indeed have an indecent level of movie charm. In Remember Me, a sweetly sodden love story with a twist, he plays Tyler Hawkins, one of those sensitive good-bad boys that have been driving women insane since the invention of the sneer. Tyler is a lot livelier than Edward the brooding vampire; he is James Dean crossed with Holden Caulfield. Can you contain yourself?
The movie follows a familiar formula: boy makes wager he can snag girl for nefarious purposes, then falls in love with her while the clock ticks down to the revelation of his lousy deed and his inevitable redemption. But rather than taking the traditional romantic comedy route, Remember Me is all about the melodrama. Instead of having the usual Manhattan magazine or fashion jobs, Tyler and his girl Ally (Lost's Emilie de Ravin) are college kids mired in misfortune. They are just 21 but have been through the wringer.
Tyler's older brother Michael, a sensitive musician, committed suicide on his own 22nd birthday; in Tyler's mind, it was all the fault of his father Charles (Pierce Brosnan) for pressuring Michael into joining his white shoe law firm. It seems unlikely that the drudgery of paralegal work actually pushed Michael over the edge, but we have plenty more evidence that Charles is an awful father. His refusal to pay any attention to Tyler's little sister Caroline (Ruby Jerins) seems pathological, especially since she is, like Tyler, straight out of Salinger: wise beyond her years, talented and soulful. Thankfully, the Hawkins' parents are divorced and Caroline lives in a warm, privileged bohemian household with their mother (Lena Olin) and stepfather. She can also rely on Tyler to pick her up from school.
Poor Ally watched her mother murdered on a subway platform by muggers ten years ago. Remember Me opens with this scene, and despite itself it's shot in that sort of bleached, sepia light that annoyingly suggests significance it gets you. Ally's mother is played by Martha Plimpton, and though she has virtually no lines, her body language and eyes speak volumes. Plimpton is a nice physical match as well; her features link up nicely with those of de Ravin, all cleaned up here from her role on Lost and exuding a soft, sunshiny glow. The resemblance helps us appreciate the obvious psychic weight on Ally's father (Chris Cooper), a weary policeman who drives her everywhere so she doesn't have to take the subway.
He's also cynical and angry enough to break up a bar fight, let the bad guys go, and beat up the mouthy kid who demands justice. That would be Tyler. Hence the motivation for dating Ally: a revenge scenario devised by his roommate Aidan (Tate Ellington), the kind of wisecracking, sleazy oaf that always hangs around the hero in romantic comedies. Of all the tired, unrealistic means the movies use to get characters together, this ploy is the worst. I would rather be forced to swallow the notion of Tyler and Ally meeting through sheer coincidence than watch this unfold.
Yet the movie manages to avoid gagging us with a spoon largely because Pattinson and de Ravin are so lovely together. They are wounded cutie-pies and nice kids, and when they are making soft-lit love in Tyler's scummy apartment, you can almost forget your doubts over whether Tyler has ever washed his sheets or scrubbed his tub. You just want all the secrets to be revealed, the mean daddies to loosen up and everybody to go over to Lena Olin's brownstone for a nice organic dinner.
But Remember Me takes itself more seriously than that. It's concerned with human connections, with the art of grieving, with fate. Big picture stuff. Like the possibility, say, that you could be riding on a train with your boyfriend and the same guy who killed your mother might glower at you from a corner. Or worse. The final twist of Will Fetters' screenplay has already been revealed in some reviews (there are small clues in the film, but it is obvious only if you, like critics, see too many movies). It won't be here, although I see the temptation; it's challenging to accurately assess Remember Me's merits without discussing whether the end is grossly manipulative or fair use of wrenching emotional material. I'll say this: if I had a daughter of impressionable age, I'd rather have her weeping over this mildly tasteless romance than the nonsense of Twilight.