Saturday, March 13, 2010

Remember Me

Even before its monumentally ill-conceived ending, Remember Me is a pretty bad movie. The leaden romance between mopey college students Tyler (Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame) and Ally (Emilie de Ravin of Lost fame) is weighed down with so much melodramatic baggage that it never gets a chance to take off on its own. Tyler's older brother committed suicide six years before; Ally's mother was murdered in front of her daughter's eyes four years before that. Both are dealing with overprotective parents, and Tyler also has a younger sister who's being bullied at school, and an unbelievably irritating best friend. With all their various traumas, it's a wonder the two can rouse themselves to have artfully shot sex in Tyler's meticulously dingy apartment.

Warning: Major spoilers ahead.

It's all very oppressive and lethargic and manipulative from the start, but then at some point in the second half, you probably realize what's coming: The movie is set in 2001 not so it can throw in a random scene of characters watching American Pie in a theater (although there is that), but so it can end with Tyler dying in the World Trade Center on 9/11, thereby allowing Ally to have the courage to once again ride the subway where her mother was murdered, and bringing Tyler's own estranged family back together. It's a crass and unearned moment, one that some may well find offensive but I just found tone-deaf and laughable. Still, it made me think about the growing prevalence of 9/11 imagery in movies that aren't actually about 9/11 (as opposed to something like Oliver Stone's World Trade Center), and why it sometimes seems innocuous and acceptable, and other times comes off as insensitive and cheap (as it does here).

The last major movie to use 9/11 as a plot point was Lasse Hallstrom's Dear John, in which the title character decides to re-enlist in the Army after the terrorist attacks, keeping him away from his lady love. Unlike Remember Me, Dear John used actual footage of the WTC attack (Remember Me director Allen Coulter cuts away once he reveals where Tyler is, since we all know what's coming), but it was to establish historical context, not to pull heartstrings (there was plenty of that going on in the rest of the movie). Dear John is a movie as much about the toll of war on personal relationships as it is about making out in the rain, and 9/11 is a catalyst, one element of many. Hallstrom and novelist Nicholas Sparks make a real case for setting a romance amid the war on terror as just as legitimate as setting one amid World War II, even if they don't actually make a good movie.

Contrast that with the histrionics of Mike Binder's 2007 weepie Reign Over Me, which stars Adam Sandler as a man whose family died on 9/11 and who still can't process his grief. Binder trivializes the event the same way that Remember Me does, making it a bit of cheap shorthand for creating the emotional weight that he can't achieve with character development, rather than the major historical event it is. In Dear John, the characters are swept up by world events; in Remember Me and Reign Over Me, world events are swept away by the narcissistic characters.

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