Aside from raking in billions in cash, the Twilight franchise has brought its three leads thriving acting careers. Taylor Lautner has become the highest-paid young actor in Hollywood seemingly overnight. Kristen Stewart will star as Joan Jett in a film due in April, and Robert Pattinson has earned enough clout to produce movies such as Remember Me for himself.
But Remember Me, which is more complex and ambitious than the formulaic romance its TV ads promise, is no mere star vehicle. Yes, there's an element of vanity in Pattinson's James Dean-ish turn as Tyler, an angst-filled New York City university student at odds with his powerful father (Pierce Brosnan). Tyler smokes cigarettes, quotes poetry, sits alone in diners scribbling in his notebook and runs his fingers through his hair.
Except that Allen Coulter, a recurring producer and director on HBO's The Sopranos, has surrounded Pattinson with a stable of actors strong enough to force him into his A-game. Remember Me, which follows what happens after the emotionally wounded Tyler falls in love with Ally (Lost's Emile de Ravin), a kindred spirit, allows him to display an emotional range he hadn't shown in Twilight, whether he's holding his own in a screaming match with Brosnan or being a doting older brother to his 11-year-old sister (Ruby Jerins).
Remember Me also features Lena Olin as Tyler's mother and Chris Cooper as Ally's widowed father, a cop desperately clinging to his daughter as if she were all he has left in the world. His character at times behaves in ways that seem conceived primarily to drive the story forward (the movie marks the debut of screenwriter Will Fetters). But there's a distinctly bittersweet undertow to the picture that draws you in and helps you overlook the film's weaknesses.
This is, at heart, a story about how people get on with their lives after overwhelming loss and learn to live with grief without succumbing to it. Tyler and Ally bond over family tragedy - his brother committed suicide; her mother was killed in a mugging. Pattinson and de Ravin don't make a memorable happy couple - they're better when they're brooding - but, although their relationship is supposed to be a haven from sadness, happiness is an emotion the film has little use for.
To call Remember Me a four-hankie weeper does not begin to describe it, and its climax almost pulls us out of the movie by incorporating a real-life event into a story that had been, until then, built purely on glossy fiction. But Coulter wants to explore the act of mourning as a theme, and how death sometimes reminds us that every minute of life should be savored. On that level, Remember Me certainly succeeds.
Remember Me (**1/2 out of ****) opens in South Florida theaters on Friday, March 12.