In the world of movie actresses, Julianne Moore is a special case. Put her in the worst, most ill-conceived story imaginable, and she still gives a performance of the same dogged intensity and artistic integrity that she applies to roles such as she had in The Hours or Far from Heaven. The Forgotten is a case in point. Here, she plays a woman named Telly Paretta, a mother whose nine-year-old son was killed in a plane crash 14 months earlier and who has subsequently dedicated her life to the business of mourning. She spends part of each day going into his room, pulling his treasured belongings (a baseball glove, a cap, photo albums) from his dresser and reliving moments of their life together. She’s become an addict, and memories are her drug of choice.
Moore is one of those actresses (Susan Sarandon is another) for whom tortured screen motherhood is a perfect fit. Regardless of her other qualities, such as her quiet, earthy sexiness (she wears her freckles the way other women wear diamonds), when she plays maternal she is able to evoke every quality we may have revered in our own mothers or wished that they had. She never gets arch, as Jamie Lee Curtis or Sigourney Weaver sometimes do in maternal roles, but she doesn’t go for the easy manipulation either. Her performance here feels just right, and it moves you in ways you don’t expect, such as the way she suggests the tedious sameness of a long period of grief by pulling those objects from the drawer in a manner that feels habitual, even rote. She’s sleepwalking through her life because everything that matters in it took place over a year ago. The present, where she exists and her son does not, is of no real importance.
The Forgotten’s early scenes work because they rely on Moore’s performance for their effects, but too soon we’re thrust into the machinations of the plot, and the film begins to fall apart. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that we’re firmly in “X-Files” territory here, and Moore is forced like a rat in a maze to wend her way through one ridiculous plot twist after another. There are a few effective shocks, but the premise behind them is too ludicrous to be taken seriously, though Moore makes a more convincing action hero than you’d expect. And even in the most absurd scenes her performance doesn’t flag. While others around her deliver laughably melodramatic and unlifelike dialogue, she continues to emote with heartfelt, chilling sincerity. It’s as if she’d skimmed the script and only read her character’s lines, or perhaps she believed that one stubbornly naturalistic performance would be enough to ground all the implausible nonsense and make the film work. It’s not enough, not nearly, but her attempt earns our sympathy.
Jeremy C. Fox is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society. You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
The Forgotten / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()