There is an elephant in the room, metaphorically. He is a most handsome, most famous, most perplexing elephant. His name is Robert Pattinson, a superstar among Twi-hards who follow his every breathless, bloodless moment in the Twilight series.
But "the room" is an American indie film called Remember Me, beautifully crafted with an air of thoughtful melancholy by director Allen Coulter. This is the story of a New York university student estranged from his wealthy father, in trouble with cops, and intrigued by the daughter of one detective who has already smashed his face in during an alley fight. The film just debuted on DVD following its modest theatrical run, timed to coincide with Friday's release of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.
In Remember Me, Pattinson gets to play a real human being in a romantic drama populated by other functioning humans. They are flawed, complex, interesting people played by Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Lena Olin, wonderful child actress Ruby Jerins and Australian discovery Emile de Ravin as the object of Pattinson's burning desire. No one drinks blood, although this saga is rife with tragedy.
Coulter, a New Yorker, is on the phone explaining how Pattinson, already cast in the first Twilight, was eager to find an antidote -- something radically different -- even before its release. Executives at Summit Entertainment, producers of Twilight, were looking to help out.
"Honestly," Coulter recalls of an early luncheon meeting with Pattinson, "he was not known, Twilight had not been released and there was no way to see it. We just knew he was interested. Sitting in front of us was a guy who was scruffy, intense, charming, unpretentious."
Pattinson was freshly returned from Mexico and astonished because he had been besieged "by 50 girls at the airport," future Twi-hards who knew him from pre-release publicity. "Little did he know that this was not even the tip of the tip of the iceberg," Coulter says, laughing. "Nor did we."
After lunch, Coulter told producer Nicholas Osborne: "I don't know why but I have the instinct that this guy could do it." It would also clinch the production deal because Summit would commit to the $16 million budget. "Clearly," Coulter says now, "that's not lost on a director. That certainly gets your attention. But, if we didn't think he was right, we would have said no."
The "yes" came, Coulter recalls, "because he seemed to understand the role. He had the kind of scruffy attractiveness we needed and a hidden intensity. He was kind of secretive in a way that I thought was kind of interesting, given who his character is and how he's conflicted about his father. So we said: 'Let's just take a flier!'
"It was after that I saw Twilight and had to admit that, if I had seen it before, just because it is so radically different, I might have hesitated."
The Twilight films, Coulter says, are like silent movies and Pattinson is like 1920s star Rudolf Valentino. Pattinson was also about to go viral. "It might have given me pause because someone that famous brings a certain amount of baggage."
One problem now might be typecasting. "There will be people who cannot accept that this young man is doing something different from Twilight," Coulter says. "Or they may have an attitude about Twilight and about his fame, about his face being on the cover of magazines, and that may influence how they see the movie.
"That is something that, in my opinion, the movie will outlive and, at that point, people will simply see it as a young man in a role. And, in my opinion, I think he is perfect for the role."
Americans not in the mood
Remember Me, which co-stars Robert Pattinson and Emile de Ravin along with a rogues gallery of great character actors, is a romantic tragedy -- not a romantic comedy. That already makes it different from most Hollywood movies, especially with its melancholic mood.
"I didn't think of it as daring," says American director Allen Coulter. "But it's not a mood that most Americans necessarily sign up for. I just thought it was true to the story."
Indeed, Americans did not sign up. Remember Me earned $55 million worldwide, just $19 million of that in North America despite the star power of Twilight star Pattinson (he was cast before Twilight was released and became famous during the Remember Me shoot). Remember Me, like other challenging films that look at youth romance in an intelligent way, is now looking for its audience on DVD.
Remember Me includes reference to 9/11. "It just seemed like the ultimate version of what this whole story was about," Coulter says, "which is the event that shatters your life and changes its direction. It was a gamble, to be honest, and one that I wrestled with really until the film was finished. But it was a gamble that I was also willing to take."
Any American filmmaker who even mentions 9/11 within a fictional story is taking a risk because many people are still so sensitive about the subject. "For some, it was something that they wish I had not done," Coulter admits. "And, for others, I think it worked in the way I intended. But everybody felt the need to be as respectful and delicate as possible."