What do we do with death? And especially when someone's passing is tragic, premature and violent? That's the central question in Remember Me, an intense drama about two families struggling with heartrending losses.
The first tragedy involves an 11-year-old girl and her doting mother. As the pair waits for the subway in Brooklyn, two hoodlums take Mom's purse. And though she surrenders it without a struggle, they take her life, too, gunning her down in front of her daughter.
Ten years later, Ally has channeled her grief into pursuing a degree in sociology. But her father, Neil, a veteran NYC homicide detective, is a shattered shell, as prone to violent overreaction on the streets as he is hyper-vigilance when it comes to Ally's safety.
Ally, of course, meets a guy who's anything but safe: Tyler Hawkins, a kindred spirit grappling with his own lingering grief.
"Gandhi said that whatever you do in life will be insignificant," Tyler recalls his older brother Michael telling him. "But it is very important that you do it." Words to live by. Except that Michael didn't. Six years before, he hanged himself. And Tyler found his body. Regarding Gandhi's quote, Tyler now says, "I tend to agree with the first part."
Beer, cigarettes and anonymous sex numb Tyler's pain as he drifts through college and pens journal entries to his deceased brother. His roommate, a jokester named Aidan, envies the fact that his friend—who sulks about like a latter-day James Dean—can apparently have any woman he wants.
But Tyler doesn't really want any of them … until he meets Ally. As love begins to thaw Tyler's grief-frozen heart, he awakens to the realization that maybe the second part of Gandhi's maxim is true after all.
Promotional material depicts Remember Me as a romantic drama. And it is that. But it's also a film about family—about how important family is and how difficult family can be at times.
We're shown the damage done when fathers make bad decisions and value the wrong things. Tyler's dad, Charles, for example, is a successful businessman who's icily detached from his ex-wife and family. His lack of emotional engagement contributed to Michael's suicide, and Tyler continues to wrestle with it.
To help compensate, Tyler works hard to give his little sister, a 6th-grader named Caroline, the love and affection she hasn't gotten from her dad. He also confronts his father (at times in anger-filled shouting matches), trying to convince him that he's failing his daughter, just as he previously failed Tyler and Michael.
For his part, Charles says he's loving his children as best he can by providing for their material needs. It's cold comfort for Tyler until he discovers pictures of himself, Michael and Caroline on his dad's desk and realizes that maybe his father loves him more than he'd thought. Eventually, Tyler's efforts to break through his dad's thick skin begin to pay dividends.
Ally's relationship with her father is similarly fraught. Neil is deeply concerned with her security but struggles to give his 21-year-old the freedom to spread her wings and make her own decisions.
Through these decidedly clay-footed fathers' ups and downs, the film ultimately emphasizes the importance of being a good dad … even as it underscores just how hard that can be.
Remember Me also emphasizes two other intertwined themes. The first is the importance of loving the people in our lives as best we can right now, because we never know when they might be taken from us without warning. Second, it emphasizes the reality that every grief-stricken person has a choice to make regarding whether they'll move forward in life or let grief paralyze them permanently.
Those messages are underscored by Ally's willingness to keep living her life despite her mother's horrific death and by another death in the movie (a twist that I'll not spoil in any more detail here). That character's passing serves as a redemptive reminder for those who remain to keep on living and to cherish the memories of those who are no longer with us.
Tyler quotes the Hindu spiritual leader Gandhi's famous words twice. He also talks about Michael's fascination with Greek mythology, stories his deceased brother loved in part because the gods were just as a flawed as the humans. At one point, Tyler reads from a mythology book to Caroline, trying to comfort her with a story about a kind and caring father.
Aidan jokes about "sins of omission" and "sins of commission," and says he's been forgiven for helping Ally get violently drunk. Later, Aidan encourages Ally to forgive Tyler after a conflict separates them. Near the conclusion, Tyler is able to say that he forgives Michael for committing suicide.
Two steamy scenes show Tyler and Ally groping, clutching and having sex. (Nudity is not shown, but it's implied they're both unclothed in one encounter.) From the back we see Ally topless twice. The couple is repeatedly shown in bed together with the covers pulled up. The pair also flirts their way into a shower (with their clothes on) before beginning to make out.
Outside the bedroom, Ally's wardrobe consists of skimpy, spaghetti-strap camisoles, one of which is pretty sheer. Sometimes she gets camera time while wearing only a bra. She wears Tyler's oversized shirt, showing off her legs. Similarly, his bare chest is on display several times.
After selling a toothbrush to a girl who spent the night with Tyler, Aidan says that they should begin marketing what he dubs a "S.L.U.T." kit: a Single Ladies' Utilities Tote with everything needed the morning after a one-night stand.
Aidan brags that he's slept with women of every race, including an Eskimo. When he's tossed into jail, a number of men begin making homosexually tinged comments about him. We see a clip from the movie American Pie in which a father walks in on his son's sexual encounter with a woman at college. We hear a joking reference to sodomy involving a toothbrush.
Ally's mother gets shot in the chest, resulting in a huge bloodstain spreading through her clothes. Tyler tries to even the odds in a brawl outside a bar by going after the instigators. It's an intense melee that involves six men trading punches and kicks. One woman is inadvertently hit hard in the face as well. When Neil shows up, he slams Tyler hard against a police cruiser's windshield, opening up a huge cut on Tyler's cheek while arresting him.
That's not the only time the cop and the kid scuffle. Neil breaks into Tyler's house and the two get into a fight which ends with Neil forcing Tyler against a wall and choking him until the younger man nearly passes out.
And Neil also takes on Ally. When she takes a verbal cheap shot during an argument, Neil hits her. Ally responds by moving out of her father's house.
Cruel classmates cut (mangle) Caroline's hair at a slumber party. That prompts Tyler to angrily and roughly spin the girls' ringleader around in her desk. Then he tosses a fire extinguisher through a window. He's subsequently arrested again.
Crude or Profane Language
Two f-words, nearly 15 s-words, eight or nine misuses of God's name (including two pairings with "d‑‑n") and two abuses of Jesus' name. Variants of "a‑‑" are spoken about a dozen times. Other vulgarities include "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n" and "p‑‑‑." We also hear "faggot" and at least four nasty references to genitalia ("p‑‑‑y," "p‑‑‑k") used as derogatory slurs.
Drug and Alcohol Content
When we first meet Tyler, he's smoking and falling down drunk. Those habits persist throughout the film, the former more than the latter. Perhaps because smoking is increasingly under scrutiny onscreen these days, Ally repeatedly criticizes him for it. And when Tyler smokes in front of his little sister, the screenwriters go out of their way to give Caroline a line about how his habit isn't influencing her. Regarding his drinking in front of Caroline, he tells his sister that he can drink because he's 21 and she can't because she's not (though she shows no interest in imitating him in this area either).
Others also drink alcohol (beer, wine, whiskey, martinis, Mojitos) in quite a few scenes. It's implied by Ally's repeated vomiting that she drank far too much at a college party. Later, Tyler blames her intoxication on Aidan's fondness for Jell-O shots. Before meeting Ally, Tyler and Aidan get drunk at a bar with two girls they've just met.
Other Negative Elements
Tyler's first conversation with Ally is based on a meanspirited dare. (But the negativity of this is mitigated by the fact that not only do his actions come back to haunt him later, but he also sincerely apologizes.) Tyler repeatedly shows contempt for his father when he visits him at his office, once using a decorative bowl in the lobby as an ashtray, another time shouting accusations in the middle of a meeting.
That's a two-word summary of the buzz leading up to the release of Remember Me.
For anyone who hasn't tapped into the cultural zeitgeist in the last couple of years, Pattinson is the English actor who's skyrocketed to fame for his role as the vampire Edward Cullen in the Twilight franchise. Given the Beatle-like mania directed toward him by adoring—mostly teen—female fans, his first role since Twilight is stirring up more scrutiny than a film like this probably would have received otherwise.
And that's a reality we need to grapple with here, because lots of Pattinson's young fans will no doubt line up early to check out the hunky object of their affection in a new role.
What will they see?
Significant positive themes revolving around family—especially when it comes to the way dads deal with loss and engage with their children—are at the core of this film. Death is a given, we're reminded, but we don't have to allow tragedy to crush our hearts. Likewise, forgiveness is vital if we hope to traverse life's inevitable disappointments. Every moment, we're told, offers opportunities to do right by those we care about the most.
Those are good messages. But they're mixed up with a whole lotta content. Because even though this film got a PG-13 rating, it doesn't much feel like one. Its sex scenes may minimize the amount of skin on display, but there's no confusion about what's happening in all that heavy breathing and moaning. Add realistic and disturbing violence, foul language that includes two f-words, Tyler's constant smoking and drinking, and Ally's drunken vomiting. The result is a movie that feels like an R-rated drama.
Watching, it struck me as possible that Remember Me might actually have been R-rated without Pattinson. Because with no need to try to appeal to swooning Twi-hards, there'd be no need to try to convince the MPAA that a lesser rating was in order.
As I was finishing up the review, my editor handed me this quote from the director: "When I was informed that the project was PG-13, my first reaction was, 'Well, sayonara!'" said Allen Coulter. "I virtually quit at that point. I didn't know that until very late in the game. So my first reaction was, 'Forget it.' Then I was talked off the ledge." Screenwriter Will Fetters added, "It's an R-script. It's an adult-themed story that can be experienced by young people. There's nothing gratuitous. Allen said this before, but hopefully it's some of these young people's first experience with an 'adult' film."
You've read my review. I'll let you decide whether this adult film should be experienced by young people.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Robert Pattinson as Tyler Hawkins; Emilie de Ravin as Ally Craig; Pierce Brosnan as Charles Hawkins; Ruby Jerins as Caroline Hawkins; Chris Cooper as Sgt. Neil Craig; Tate Ellington as Aidan Hall
Allen Coulter ( Hollywoodland)
March 12, 2010
June 22, 2010