Memory: The BRWC Review. By Alif Majeed.
Memory is the type of indie movie that follows a lot of stereotypes of broken people falling for each other subgenre. It checks a lot of the boxes like the main protagonists being broken or afflicting with some sort of ailment, relatives who are trying to either keep them apart or are completely sympathetic, substance or alcohol abuse, and then some sort of sexual abuse involved. What keeps the movie from falling apart in the face of the box checks is always how much the lead couple pulls you onto their side. Thankfully, Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard deliver spectacular, emotive performances that hold the movie together.
Jessica Chastain plays Sylvia, a former alcoholic who, while attending a school reunion at the suggestion of her sister, gets followed home by what looks like a homeless person, which perturbs her. Even as she suspects he is a former classmate who might have been involved in an incident of abuse in her high school, she helps him get back home as she realizes he has no memory of how he got there. Realizing she is a social worker, his family hires her to take care of him as he has early-onset dementia. This starts the tale of an unlikely and potentially disastrous relationship between two broken people. One can’t create fresh memories and the other cannot get past her haunting memories of what happened to her.
Despite the short running time, a lot of things happen in the movie in quick succession. Scenes that feel like they serve no purpose come back later, though not always in a convincing manner. Like, take the scene where Sylvia suspects Paul of having taken part in her abuse in an incident in school. It may seem to make no sense, but it eventually proves how sometimes memory can be truly splintered and colored by our notions and inherent biases. It is also highlighted in the confrontation scene near the climax, where denying what happened becomes necessary to forget any unpleasant incidents and live in denial.
Jessica Chastain may not seem to do anything revolutionary in the movie as it is a retread of many broken characters she has done in the past. But that is a disservice to her as an actress as she makes it look easy playing a complex character who can’t get beyond her past. It is also great that she lets Peter Sarsgaard (in a Volpi Cup best actor winning performance). He is just as splendid as the guy who has dementia. All the hints of his problems are more subtle and there is no hamminess in his performance, though there are ample chances to do so. That is the much-discussed scene involving him and his simple midnight search for the bathroom. Though the scene cuts away early, his confusion and desperation make the scene relatable.
The supporting cast ably supported them, including Jessica Harper, Josh Charles, and Merritt Wever. But the way these three people have been painted in broad strokes makes the check boxes mentioned earlier obvious. Josh Charles gets the most thankless role here as the brother of Paul. He seems designed someone there to keep them away from each other even though it makes reasonable sense to an outsider that they may cause potential harm to each other if left unchecked. Jessica Harper is the mother who is in denial of what repeatedly happened to her daughter, while Merritt Wever plays the supportive sister who has a genuine concern for her wellbeing despite both having splintered memories of what happened to her. The former’s colored by her denial and the latter’s by her age.
However, the lead characters undeniably win you over despite the many faults in the movie. As stated earlier, sometimes the characters and situations almost border on the stereotypes of the genre. The level of engagement you get from the movie would depend on how much you end up rooting for the central characters. Even if you end up rooting for them, it ends with a feeling that the cycle of separation and reunion could continue.
MEMORY is in UK and Irish cinemas from 23rd February memoryfilm.uk
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