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Jesscia Chastin and Peter Sarsgaard deliver a master acting class in Memory

In the somber drama Memory, Michel Franco directs Academy Award winner Jessica Chastain and Emmy Nominee Peter Sarsgaard. Frano also pens the film’s screenplay, which introduces Sylvia (Chastain), a recovering alcoholic and social worker leading a simple life while raising her daughter Anna (Brooke Timber).

Fate intervenes one day when she runs into Saul (Sarsgaard) at their home high school reunion, and he happens to follow her home. It turns out that Saul has a condition that affects his memory, but he sees Sylvia as a light in his life. Over the film’s duration, the audience goes on a journey with these two characters as their surprise encounter profoundly impacts both of their lives as they open the door to the past in hopes of a better future.

I wasn’t familiar with the director’s previous work, so I primarily hit play on the film as a fan of Chastain, whom I feel is one of the best actresses working today, and yes, she was robbed of her first Oscar for Zero Dark Thirty. Chastin can eschew chameleon-like vibes in any role she takes, and her role as Sylvia is a total 180 from her Oscar-winning role last year as Tammy Faye. In this film, Chastain effectively taps into a recovering addict, verbalizing the dialogue of Franco’s script as layers are revealed, which causes her character to give in to the vices of alcohol and drugs. 

One of the things I commend the director for is that he avoids the typical archetype of having Saul become a toxic figure in Sylvia’s life. That said, if you were expecting a film with relapse montages or Chastin lowering herself to a standard of selling her body to get that next fix, then this film isn’t one you should add to the viewing queue of your favorite streaming service. Instead, this film is about finding a kindred spirit when you are at your lowest.

Sarsgaard also delivers solid work in the role of Saul, a man through no fault of his own is tapped into an inescapable existence. Franco doesn’t treat Saul as a simpleton who can’t function on his own, as he has a controlling brother Issac (Josh Charles), who gives him just enough to think he has a sense of control.

The strength in Sarsgaard’s performance comes from watching him fall in love with Syliva and essentially discover life again. I credit Franco for handling Saul’s arc, as he doesn’t try to go Hollywood with his journey. Instead, we get an authentic study of real-life disease and how to deal with it when you meet someone new in your life. 

The supporting cast in the film doesn’t stand out as Memory is a character study film that belongs to its two leads.

The slow pace may be off-putting to some viewers. However, fans of the two leads should check out Memory.

Final Grade: B

Memory is currently in limited release.

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