Lisa Joy has an amazing imagination that sometimes gets in the way. Way back when while studying for the bar, she was distracted and wrote a script for the fantasy comedy series, Pushing Daisies where a pie-maker who had the amazing ability to bring dead people back to life momentarily also served as a reluctant private eye. That led to a role as a staff writer for the show. In 2016, she co-created HBO’s Westworld, about a theme park where working animatronic robots would eventually run amuck. Joy has now moved to the big screen directing her first live action film, Reminiscence. The film that stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton is based on a screenplay that Joy also wrote while experiencing the joy of becoming a mother for the first time while also mourning the death of her grandfather.
Nostalgia plays a large role in Reminiscence from the storyline to the visuals. While set in a sci-fi dystopian future, much is played out in the style of film noir. Women wearing slinky dresses of yesteryear and men wear fedoras. Technology is advanced but people still use household items like keys and pocket watches. Life is different, but much of it is still the same. However, it’s too hot to work during the day, so pretty much the whole world operates at night. People wake up to sunsets and go to bed just as the sun rises.
The movie opens with amazing photography with much of Miami under water, no doubt a consequence to global warming. Instead of moving toward higher ground, people have learned to live with it using boats and elevated trains to get around the city. Higher ground is for the rich. Nick Bannister (Jackman) is a war veteran who now makes a living helping people relive their past lives while also working as a private investigator on the side. Clients come in to soak in a tub while Nick coaxes them back to various memories which begins with him instructing them “You are about to go on a journey…” For some reason, these journeys played out on a large 3D imaging area where Nick can walk around and view the settings from different angles. One man comes in to spend time with his old dog. Another woman wants to relive romantic encounters with a former boyfriend.
“Nostalgia is addicting” Nick narrates, much like an old 1940’s detective movie and explains how he never uses the tank himself. One night, right after they close, in walks a woman who wants to use his services to help her find where she left her keys. Uh-huh. A likely story. Nick’s employee and former war buddy, Emily “Watts” Sanders (Thandiwe Newton) is not in the giving mood and tells the woman that they’re closed, but Nick stops her and tells the woman that they have time for one more. The woman (Rebecca Ferguson), a night club singer (who looks like Jessica Rabbit), says that her name is Mae and Nick is captivated. (Much like how Jackman looked captivated when the two starred in The Greatest Showman.) In a matter of minutes, a romance is born (hey, when you know, you know, right?) and then suddenly when everything has been going so well, Mae goes missing.
Going against his own rules, Nicks starts to obsess and uses the tank regularly reliving his past with Mae in hopes of finding some clues on where she might be. She wouldn’t just walk away, right? Watts uses tough love and tries to convince Nick to just move on. And he does. Until a crime that they two are investigating shows Mae in a suspect’s memory and his obsession gets the better of him once again.
Reminiscence won’t appeal to everyone. In fact, the reviewer I sat next to during my screening kept chuckling every ten minutes or so throughout the whole film. Sometimes it was the dialogue that got him to snicker. Sometimes it was the scenery. Annoying to say the least, but I don’t think he got it. If you walk into this movie thinking that everything should be realistic, you’ll be disappointed. Everything in this film is stylistic from the costumes to the dialogue. Yes, the characters say and do things that real people don’t say in real life. (In one scene, Mae asks Nick to tell her a story with a happy ending to which he replies that stories don’t have happy endings.) But this isn’t a movie about real life. It’s a fantasy. It’s a mystery. It’s film noir and characters tend to be melodramatic in these types of movies. The violence, while explosive at times, isn’t very bloody. The language is minimal and sex is only insinuated, not shown. It’s a nod to movies of yesteryear. It’s storytelling. Just go with it.
That’s not to say that Reminiscence is perfect. It’s not. A few scenes and a few lines are repeated a few too many times and sometimes logic takes a back seat. But the biggest flaw that I noticed is the actual memory receiving device itself. Supposedly, it can only show what was actually recorded as a memory. In my mind, if I were the client, the images that would be shown would only be from my point of view – from what I saw with my own eyes. And in one scene that is played out exactly in that way. But mostly, these memories are shown with a 360 degree view around the character. The images shown are often from across the room and even behind the character’s back. How can that be part of their memory? Even so, that wasn’t a deal-breaker for me.
I’m a Jackman fan, but I’m not sure that this is his best work. But I will say that while Newton’s character was a bit too harsh for me, I realized that while the rest of the cast were playing their parts in a melodramatic way, she did not. And in the end, it makes sense. While mostly playing the role of an unhappy woman, her story plays out with a happy ending.
When is all said and done, Reminiscence is sort of a morality tale. Maybe there’s a reason why our memories of special events fade over the years. If we focus too much on the past, we’ll miss the present.
Main Image: Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) and Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman). (Warner Bros.)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.