Two kinds of audiences will appreciate this movie. The first are those who will be so taken by the flashback scenes of first love between two bright, engaging 15-year-olds that they will be willing to sit through the literally murky present-day scenes that show how the events of the past continue to entangle us. The second are those who are interested in figuring out why an award-winning screenplay will not always make a good movie, especially if you let the screenwriter direct it. There are some things that work on paper and things that work on screen, and unfortunately there was no one connected with this film who knew the difference.
It’s a shame, because the flashback scenes are exceptionally well handled, with newcomers Lindley Joiner and Brooke Harmen as Sam Franks and Silvy Lewis. Sam is the son of a man who does not show him any warmth or affection, and he is not sure of how he will handle the feelings in his life. But he cannot help responding to Silvy. She is his closest friend and they communicate perfectly, whether they are challenging each other with a word association game, trading glimpses of strange and wonderful sights, or just sharing unspoken understandings.
When we first meet Sam, he is an adult speaking to a classroom of psychiatric students about how and why people block memories. His father’s death forces him to return to the place where he grew up, where it seems that his own repressed memories are waiting for him, along with a mysterious woman named Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter) who is having some memory problems of her own and is not even sure who she is. Sam meets her briefly on the train and then sees her try to drown herself. He rescues her, then takes her to the home he shared with his father to help her remember who she is. But the glimmers of memory seem to connect back to a devastating loss that Sam himself is not willing to remember.
The story is ambitious and impressionistic. Is Ruby real? Is Silvy? But it is also very clunky, especially with characters like Silvy’s father, who might as well be wearing a sign that says, “I am here to represent earthy wisdom” as try to handle the dialogue he is asked to deliver. The ending is both too revealing and not concrete enough. And the movie makes a crucial error in not exploring Sam’s role in the tragedy and how that affects his response to it.
Parents should know that the movie has a very sad death and some disturbing themes. Characters drink.
Families who see this movie should talk about the impulse to shut down our emotions to protect ourselves from being hurt. What will change for Sam and why?
Families who like this movie should see the better “Truly, Madly, Deeply.” They should also read the T.S. Eliot poem that gives the movie its name.