The tyranny of genre is the result of movies falling prey to ad blitzes, where modern-day audiences have to be inundated by clear, concise premises in order to be convinced that a movie is worth watching. It seems as if films are being crafted specifically not for the audience, but for the bots at Netflix who have to know what to recommend next to the viewer and for the cable programmers who don’t want to lose ratings when they schedule a repeat of your film after a syndicated airing of “Law & Order” or “Franklin & Bash.” If anything, that’s a reason for applauding a smaller indie like “Forgetting the Girl,” which has no discernible genre, and is never entirely predictable.
The picture begins with Kevin (Christopher Denham), a glum photographer who takes us through his collection of failed relationships. He speaks from a place of loneliness, but there’s something off about this well-dressed, fairly handsome guy. The first thought comes from the fact that the failed relationships of which he speaks number in the low-tens at least, all of them fairly conventionally beautiful, and you half expect him to grumble something about the “friend zone.” Then the realization sets in that he’s actually filming himself giving what feels like a confession, and suddenly the Norman Bates wardrobe vaguely makes sense. But Denham, one of the hostages in last year’s “Argo,” is more milquetoast than intense. His Kevin seems lonely, mostly, though not very likable, just another guy loudly wondering what he has to do to get a woman to be his dream girl.
Director Nate Taylor intentionally fractures the narrative, drifting between Kevin’s past and current life. His dalliances with women are interspersed with memories of his sister, who passed away in a pool accident when Kevin was a small child. To what extent this event influences Kevin’s current relationships seems unclear. It isn’t something that grandmother Ruby (Phyllis Somervile) seems interested in dredging up, either. Perhaps Kevin, who was only slightly older than his sister, is to blame. Denham gives good poker face: you’re never sure if he wants to be caught for a terrible misdeed, or if he just wants an explanation as to why it happened so quickly and brutally.
As we see Kevin’s romantic struggles sideline him, we’re introduced to his assistant Jamie (Lindsay Beamish). Gothed up and chatty, Jamie registers as nerdy instead of attractive, though in real life Beamish seems plenty attractive, perhaps a bit out of Denham’s league even. She pines for her boss, but she hides this longing behind a depression that finds her jabbering away about her drinking problems and failing to find a mate. Kevin is friendly enough towards her to accept her invitation to go camping, albeit with her gay AA sponsor in tow, but you’re never clear what he thinks of this girl, only that he’d rather be chasing the ladies on the other side of his camera. Kevin’s vaguely misogynist anger and Jamie’s bitter neglect seem to be building to similarly intense but divergent outcomes, but viewers will be left mildly curious as to where this is leading, and why it seems suspicious when Kevin talks about “forgetting” his former lovers.
“Forgetting the Girl” ends up building towards a massive revelation, one that suddenly gives up the ghost and allows the film to define itself as one specific genre. Not romance or thriller or comedy, mind you, but that type of indie that plays peek-a-boo with its topics for long enough before springing something that allows the final twenty minutes to be occupied by bargain-basement pop psychology. These films are difficult to write about, but they are also difficult to embrace, like a cheap parlor game disguised as magic. The little details strewn along the first two acts of the film are largely just window-dressing; what of Tanner (Paul Sparks), Kevin’s icky landlord who insists on sharing grotesque pornography? The film had begun with Kevin narrating his women troubles on video, but it’s coy about eventually revealing what is actually a fairly mundane truth, as far as movies go. You remove the sleight of hand (which, itself is fairly clunky) and you don’t even have a movie.
Denham is an interesting performer who brings a lot of ambiguity to his work. He’s particularly interesting in “Sound of My Voice,” where he brings several dimensions to a role that is already effectively straightforward on paper. Here, he’s doing something of a slow burn, and it’s the sort of thing that makes him seem like the under-equipped Colin Hanks, when he’s really more of a Tom. Beamish steals her scenes with a sense of humor that feels coated in barbed wire, so protective it seems of her psyche. Her Jamie is damaged, smiling ruefully as Kevin invites various women onto dates, forced to begin the day by making coffee and babbling to herself as a therapeutic way to chase off her demons. You kind of wish the picture would find a way to ditch the gimmicks and simply match these two together. [C-]