Big budget original movies are an endangered species. I am so exhausted by the conveyor belt of refurbished ideas coming from major studios that I desperately seek out any original movie with a budget, and in the last few years, I have been consistently underwhelmed. Unfortunately Lisa Joy’s “Reminiscence” doesnt do much to correct that.
Reminiscence seems great on paper. It boasts a stellar cast anchored by Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson, and a really dynamic turn from Cliff Curtis. It has an interesting setting, taking place in a dark and drowning Miami after sea levels have all but reclaimed Florida. The soggy city streets and neon lit alleys were pretty compelling. I didn’t know anything about this script prior, but after about 5 min in, I would’ve bet my left kidney it was a Blacklist screenplay, which it was. The script was filled with all the self importance and exhausting purple narration found in some of those scripts. It begs the question why these potentially good ingredients made something so bland.
I think the first act is by far the worst. The film starts very flat, and we are beaten over the head with exposition when there was no hook to justify it. The film is extremely dark, not tonally but visually. I know this was an aesthetic choice to mirror some of the stark lighting of the classic noir references, but I found the dark and dull interiors to be unengaging. The clunky exposition feels like a common byproduct of the plot being so dense leading into the second and third acts.
The main characters presented as more archetypal than individual, with Hugh Jackman’s “Nick” being the jaded, self-destructive PI in search of an enigmatic lounge singer in a red dress. He never felt more than a cynical caricature to me. Occupying that dress is Rebecca Ferguson’s “Mae”, the mysterious seductress with a checkered past. There was little to differentiate them from the influences of their classic noir prototypes, with the memory “flashbacks” and flowery narration regrettably doing most of the heavy lifting in that regard. I really had trouble empathizing with either of them.
I understand that stories can dictate the rules of the world they inhabit, but there is a main conceit here regarding the idea of memory that just automatically rings false to me. These characters exist in a world where memory is immutable, imprinting on your brain like a photo so long as the memory is in any way impactful. That isn’t necessarily a problem on its own, but the film then builds much of its main commentary and philosophy upon that premise, which we know to be false. Memory fades and changes and is wholly unreliable, indicative of more feelings than details. This misrepresentation, intentional or not, leaves most of the conclusions reached feeling hollow.
I applaud the intentions of the film. I think there is a very interesting conversation to be had about our societies’ reliance on nostalgia and idealization of the past. It is a premise worth investigating. Unfortunately, “Reminiscence” succumbs to its own message, becoming prisoner to its classic noir influences far too much to forge ahead with anything fresh.