Single mother Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) has just invited her 13 year-old, Anna (Brooke Timber, TV's 'Russian Doll'), to her milestone 10th AA anniversary, but it is clear she is still wrestling with her past when she hesitates over letting a male repairperson into their NYC apartment.  Her anxiety increases when, having been convinced to attend a high school reunion with her sister, Olivia (Merritt Wever, always a plus), a man sits down next to her and when she leaves, follows her home.  But she is mistaken about his identity and when she gets to know Saul (Peter Sarsgaard) a little better, will learn they are both struggling with “Memory.”

Laura's Review: B

After making a dramatic splash in 2020 with Mexico’s International submission “New Order,” writer/director Michel Franco returned to the more intimate dramas he’d made before with “Sundown.”  His second U.S. set film follows that trend, another tale of fractured families and broken people, this time with a lovely, unexpected romance at its core.

Sylvia, who lives with her daughter in a 39th street walkup next to a tire distributor, isn’t so fearful she doesn’t take pity on the man who stayed on her sidewalk overnight through a rainstorm, going down to check on him in the light of day and asking Anna to bring down a blanket.  She asks for his phone and calls a primary contact, reaching Isaac (Josh Charles), the man’s brother, who comes with his daughter Sara (Elsie Fisher, "Eighth Grade") to fetch him and later invites Sylvia to visit their stately brownstone as Saul wishes to apologize.  There she will learn Saul has the type of dementia which affects short term memory, but when she goes for a walk with the outwardly gentle man who says he does not know her nor remember following her home she makes a horrific accusation from their high school days.   

Sylvia, who works at an adult day care center, will be surprised later when Sara makes a surprise visit asking if she will care for her uncle when she returns to Boston for school, offering cash which she presses the woman to take as a thank you whether or not she accepts the offer.  She does not, but then her sister drops by to tell her that it is impossible Saul is the man she thinks he is as he didn’t move to their home town until the year Sylvia changed schools.

Calling Sylvia’s memory into question will go to the root of the family dysfunction that has kept her from speaking to her mother, Samantha (Jessica Harper, 1977's "Suspiria"), who wishes to form a relationship with her granddaughter Anna.  While not exactly encouraging it, Olivia, whose husband is weirdly uncomfortable with Sylvia’s blunt truth telling, appears to side with their mother or, at least, not stand up for her sister.  A similarly judgmental attitude will take hold with Isaac when Sylvia and Saul’s relationship progresses beyond caretaker and patient.

Franco has intricately entwined his themes through two different families connected by an encounter between their two most troubled members.  Class is subtly commented upon, Sylvia’s apartment a far cry from her sister’s suburban home and what we will learn is actually Saul’s brownstone.  There is even a hidden mystery here, a redheaded woman displayed in photographs at Saul’s appearing at one of Sylvia’s meetings – is this the wife Saul said died long ago or the reason he was drawn to another red-headed woman?

Chastain is excellent as a paranoid but empathetic abuse victim, displaying the edginess that comes of having one’s reality questioned.  Sarsgaard is gentle and benign, sensual in his bare feet and bathrobe, using humor to deflect from Saul’s handicap.  Franco’s unusual romance wraps with a wonderful moment, a daughter recognizing her mother’s need, but we are left wondering about its long term implications.  “Memory’s” script is thoughtful throughout until its heart gets the better of it.

Robin's Review: B

Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is a single mom, social worker and recovering alcoholic. She reluctantly agrees to attend a high school reunion with her sister, Olivia (Merritt Wever), and then a man, Saul (Peter Sarsgaard), sits next to her and follows her home, where she ignores him. He persists with his attention and these two broken people need each other to be whole again in “Memory.”

I am not usually attracted to films about broken people – Oscar-winning “Marty (1955)” left me cold with its overtly sentimental story, even though it won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Ernest Borgnine. And, at first, I thought that “Memory” was going to fall into the over-sentimentality chasm. Fortunately, it does not.

We meet Sylvia at the close of her latest AA meeting and she heads to her social worker job helping others to straighten their lives out. From there, it is to home and her daughter, Anna (Brooke Timber), to whom she is devoted. Life may not be great but it is, at least, moving along, Then she encounters Saul, beginning the process that will change them both.

When she finds him the morning after the class reunion, asleep outside her apartment in the rain, he does not remember their meeting. It dawns on her that he may be in the early stages of dementia and she begins the process of caring for him. Her life, though, is wrought with past problems and psychological stresses that she has yet to cope with. Soon, Saul is caring for Sylvia.

This is where the overt sentimentality does NOT take place between the two. Saul, besides his slowly failing mind, is divorced and has a niece, Ashley (Blake Baumgartner), who needs his attention, too. Sylvia is raising Anna alone and has to confront her mother, Samantha (Jessica Harper) about her father’s uncontrolled abuse when she was just a kid. Saul and Sylvia are there for each other, despite life’s obstacles, and you realize that is how it should be.

This is the actors’ movie and the stars and the supporting cast create people, not characters. The thoughtful nature of the story, by writer-director Michel Franco, gives the characters time to flesh out and develop the nuance of those characters in often gut wrenching ways. And, the main characters, though broken at first, become whole, as I wanted.

Ketchup Entertainment opened "Memory" in select theaters on 12/22/23, expanding on 1/5/24 and in subsequent weeks.