The last 10 to 15 minutes of Remember Me turn on such a drastic miscalculation that audiences will scarcely be able to talk about anything else. That’s too bad, because before it’s freighted with more significance than its flimsy architecture can possibly withstand, this romantic melodrama strives for something nearly as ambitious: It attempts to turn Twilight’s Robert Pattinson into the millennial James Dean. As a brooding loner gone bohemian in defiance of his cold, corporate blueblood father (Pierce Brosnan), Pattinson does his best impersonation of Dean in East Of Eden, casting rebellion as the raw byproduct of lingering daddy issues. Though his behavior is often erratic, he’s a sensitive soul (when he makes love, Sigur Rós swells in the background), quietly heroic when it counts. And he has a special talent for alarming overly protective fathers, which makes him more attractive.
The major problem with Pattinson’s ascendancy to the Dean throne: His soulfulness is a pose, an effect achieved more by hair and makeup (and yes, genetics) than the scenes where he’s required to emote at high volume. And unlike James Franco, who had the ability to pivot out of his Dean typecasting (mostly by embracing his considerable funny side), Pattinson seems locked into a poster-boy image that his performances can’t tweak. The busily plotted Remember Me brings Pattinson and lovely NYU student Emilie de Ravin together under peculiar circumstances: After a run-in with de Ravin’s father, a cantankerous cop played by Chris Cooper, Pattinson’s roommate (Tate Ellington) encourages him to take revenge by bedding her. Pattinson and de Ravin fall in love, of course, but this and other secrets and revelations threaten to sabotage their fledgling relationship.
Though generally well-orchestrated by Allen Coulter (Hollywoodland), who evokes turn-of-the-21st-century New York City with subtle specificity, the raft of subplots in Remember Me distract from the love story as much as they complicate it. Writer Will Fetters strains to connect Pattinson and de Ravin’s broken families via rhyming themes of grief, loss, and estrangement, but there’s so much happening on the sidelines that the romance peters out. When the film finally goes for broke with that ambitious, colossally misconceived finale, a tremendous emotional investment in these characters is necessary to pull it off—and even then, its prospects would be questionable. Some things simply defy dramatization.