Memory (2023)

Flawed ‘Memory’ forgets to be good

“Memory” is about how some things are best not remembered – like “Memory.” Instantly forgettable, writer-director Michel Franco’s examination of two troubled souls – one an alcoholic, the other a victim of early onset dementia – is the football equivalent of piling on. It’s not enough that Jessica Chastain’s Sylvia has a drinking problem, and Peter Sarsgaard’s Sal Shapiro is a prisoner in his brother’s Brooklyn brownstone, they are also afflicted with complex issues involving childhood molestation, androphobia, a deceased spouse and a creepy compulsion to stalk an alum attending a 25th high school reunion.

In Franco’s cockamamy script, these troubling matters are easily swept away by sharing a cuddle and a bathtub (prominently featured in the movie’s poster). There’s zero attempt to examine and explain the odd behaviors his two talented stars are asked to act out. Instead, Franco (“Sundown”) prefers we see them as nonthreatening, even huggable. Sure, Sylvia casually accuses Sal of sexually assaulting her when she was 12, and Sal prances around naked in front of Sylvia’s tween daughter, Anna (newcomer Brooke Timber), but in Franco’s warped alternate universe, they are the Romeo and Juliet of mental illness.

I found the display borderline offensive and Sal and Sylvia’s tormented lives laughably contrived. I mean, would you fall in love with the guy who just days before was stalking you? And would you pursue a potential mate who accuses you of being a child molester? The premise is even more ridiculous than the clunky script, which is the stuff of an amateur writing workshop. It’s as though the actors – including Jessica Harper as Sylvia’s sanctimonious, estranged mother, and Merritt Wever as Sylvia’s speak-no-evil younger sister, Olivia – are clumsily searching for pertinent dialogue. Like at the reunion, when Olivia encounters an old friend she hasn’t seen in years. “I can’t wait to see everybody,” Olivia gushes. “It looks amazing.” To which the fellow reveler responds, “I’m so happy to be here. You look amazing.”

What? I swear the two actresses cribbed those vapid lines from the opening scenes of “Barbie.” Why even include such drivel? Oh, that’s right, Franco was one of his film’s two editors. Yikes! And while I’m at it, how about a later scene when Olivia’s stiff, clueless husband admonishes Sylvia for accusing a family member of being a “pedophile.” “We don’t use that kind of language in this house.” OK, how exactly would you like her to express that? Seems pretty appropriate to me.

Then there’s poor Josh Charles, stuck with the unenviable role of Sal’s brother, Isaac, a mean, mean man who is quick to remind Sal what a hindrance he has become to both his business in the office and in the sack. No brother of the year awards for him. And no potential awards for this fatuous movie, unless you count a Razzie.

Movie review


Rated: R for graphic nudity, some sexual content and language

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Brooke Timber, Jessica Harper, Josh Charles and Merritt Wever

Director: Michel Franco

Writer: Michel Franco

Runtime: 100 minutes

Grade: C-

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