The Forgotten (review)

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Moore’s the Pity

Or, When Indie Queens Go Hollywood. Between The Forgotten and spring’s Laws of Attraction, Julianne Moore is not having a good year. She probably got paid a lot more, of course, for just one of these stinkers than she made in her entire indie career, but is it worth it if that means she’s stuck having her name associated with dreadful romantic comedies and now a Frankenstein’s monster hybrid of a thriller?
Moore (The Hours) elevates crap with her mere presence, but even according that level of generosity to The Forgotten doesn’t get you far. It starts out your basic Lifetime Television for Women Movie-of-the-Week kinda thing, all oh-dear-god-no-not-without-my-child melodrama: Moore’s Telly Paretta is having a hard time getting over the death, more than a year earlier, of her young son, Sam (Christopher Kovaleski, in flashbacks), in a plane crash. She haunts the family photo albums and can’t stop watching home videos of him playing Little League; neither her shrink, Dr. Jack Munce (Gary Sinise: The Big Bounce, The Human Stain), nor her husband, Jim (Anthony Edwards: Thunderbirds), can really assuage her grief. And then, the hubby and the shrink turn weird, insisting that Sam never existed; the kid’s image disappears from the albums and the videos, too. None of it is particularly compelling, except in that vague way that your Bad Movie Alarm engages your sense of suspense: In which particularly ridiculous direction will the film take us? Is she really crazy, really inventing a son, and so this will turn out to be one of those overblown valentines to the maternal instinct, so supposedly wonderful even if it goes awry? Are the people around her actually plotting against her, trying to make her crazy, and so this will turn out to be one of those pseudofeminist metaphors about how husbands and shrinks and authority figures and the whole damn world conspire to drive perfectly lovely women out of their minds?

But it’s worse. Suddenly, with no forewarning of any kind, we’re in X-Files territory: Telly’s acquaintance, Ash Correll (Dominic West: Mona Lisa Smile, Chicago), who’d been insisting he never had a kid, suddenly starts remembering that he did, in fact, have a daughter who was killed in the crash with Sam. Men-in-black government types show up. There’s a weird disturbance in sky above Telly’s house.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with mixing genres: If someone wants to filter the woman-in-peril melodrama through The Twilight Zone, fine. But a blending of genres requires, well, a blending. There’s no hint, in the first half of the film, of the kind of ground we’re going to be led over in the second half: when the story possibilities are so wide, when it seems that absolutely anything can happen, then nothing is believable. The Forgotten cheats by not laying out any parameters for itself… and so we’re left with a gamut of possibilities, none of which, at certain points in the movie, can be ruled out, because nothing can be ruled out. Since I was forced to entertain myself during The Forgotten, I developed a list of these possibilities:

= Grief-stricken mom is the subject of a radical therapy procedure in which her husband and her shrink honestly think they’re doing the right, healthy thing for her by trying to erase her memory of the dead son.

= Homeland Security: The Thriller! What does the NSA care about a crashed plane full of kids off to camp? Don’t worry — be happy! Enjoy heavy-handed commentary on the Bush Administration’s penchant for rewriting history to make us all feel better about bad things.

= It’s an episode of Bad Star Trek: The Next Iteration, and aliens are experimenting on a starship crew in cold sleep during a hundred-year journey to another world; one of the crew members feels guilty for leaving her young son behind on Earth and the aliens, saddened by this, want to help her.

= Telly is from the future and her meddling with the timestream has erased the existence her great-great-great grandfather, Sam. Now, she must race against time to ensure her own eventual birth in the 25th century.

= They’re all in the Matrix, where a role-playing game has gone amuck, endangering the players.

= Telly, a sufferer of multiple-personality disorder, has invented Sam, Jack, Jim, and Ash as a way of dealing with the fact that she murdered her own child.

= The Rapture has happened, and Telly has been Left Behind.

= County General’s ER attending Dr. Mark Greene experiences a vivid brain-tumor-induced hallucination, and emerges from neurosurgery overjoyed to discover that he is not, in fact, an actor who left a hit TV series only to find nothing but roles in cheesy would-be thrillers.

= M. Night Shyamalan was called in as a script doctor.

I won’t tell you which of these absurdities comes closest to what’s actually going on in The Forgotten. Suffice to say that the revelation is both trite, in that it’s a plot already done to death, and so farfetched as to be laughable, because we haven’t been prepared for it. And then, even on the preposterous terms it finally sets for itself, the film brazenly continues to evince no understanding of story logic anyway. So it was probably a hopeless cause from the get-go, and hardly worth talking about at all.

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