Sometimes, writers get a tad bit lazy with their narratives and throw in a character with amnesia as a cheap and easy way to wiggle themselves out of plot holes and avoid the extra work of coming up with a clever twist for their story. Because this predictable soap-opera-style technique is so familiar, it can be easy to dismiss and overlook stories that center around memory loss. However, when used with caution and careful thought, amnesia as a plot device can actually make for compelling storytelling, as is the case with 32 Weeks. This romance/ mystery from writer/director Brian Cavallaro works so well because the protagonist’s memory-loss-inducing-incident occurs right at the start of the story. When Cole (Nicole Souza) wakes up in the hospital after a car accident with no memory of the past 32 weeks of her life, the audience is in pretty much the same boat as Cole with no knowledge of what happened to her during that time. This setup creates a thrilling closed mystery with tons of possibilities that keep us engaged and guessing until the end. However, things begin to fall apart for 32 Weeks when the mystery is revealed with the final “twist,” a somewhat sloppy ending that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. Still, the story leading up to that final let-down is a charming journey with some fantastic performances.
After the accident, Cole can remember a lot of things. She remembers her personal information, her apartment, and how to play the violin. She also remembers her best friend and former roommate, Hannah (Nicole Rainteau). What she doesn’t remember, however, is her six-week relationship with the charming, outgoing Simon (Scott Bender). Cheeky but caring, Simon does everything he can to help Cole recover her memories, even though she has absolutely no recollection of him. While Simon knows just about everything about Cole, Cole must essentially start the relationship over from scratch and can only rely on Hannah’s word and her old text messages to be sure that she was even dating Simon before the accident. As flashes from the past begin to come back to Cole like dreams, she gets the thrilling opportunity to get to know the man she had fallen in love with all over again. In soft, romantic sequences with a tinted grainy filter and twinkling music, 32 Weeks takes us back into Cole’s pleasant memories as they all come rolling back to her. However, not all the memories that come back are good ones. As Cole continues to look back through her messages and texts, she realizes that Simon isn’t the only person from her recent past that she has forgotten, and her friends are reluctant to help her fill in the gaps of the more painful memories. Cole is forced to try and put the pieces together herself until the final memory clicks into place.
For the most part, 32 Weeks achieves a stable balance between establishing specific, believable details and leaving other elements up in the air to create a mystery. Cavallaro wrote Cole as a well-developed, believable, and likeable character, and Souza easily fits into that character’s shoes. There is something very real and personable about Souza as Cole. She makes the character quirky and snarky without falling into manic-pixie-dream-girl clichés. What’s most engaging about Cole, however, is that she doesn’t know exactly who she is. She can remember defining moments of her childhood and her basic personal information, but she has forgotten key events from the past few months of her life that, when she remembers them, will define who she is in the future. The story keeps us questioning not only the people in Cole’s life, but also Cole herself, even though she is very likable and trustworthy. Was she a victim of something she has forgotten, or could she be, perhaps, the real villain of the story? That intriguing question keeps us watching until the end. While 32 Weeks is a sweet romance about remembering love, it also throws in a compelling mystery that questions why we fall in love and what we do once we’re there.
32 Weeks also establishes a fun and nostalgic tone that fits the millennial dating-scene milieu. Alongside Souza is a strong supporting cast who each adds a little something extra to their somewhat predictable roles. Cole’s sociable and boho-chic style best friend, Hannah, doesn’t get any more emotionally complex than the typical best-friend-in-a-romcom, but Rainteau gives a natural, relaxed performance that makes the overdone character type fun to watch. Simon can best be described as the average preppy guy on tinder who lists his job as “entrepreneur” and has a bio that reads something like, “I’m down for exploring, trying exotic foods, and traveling the world. Just looking for a fun-loving, outgoing girl to vibe with. Must love wine and dogs.” Still, there is something classic and honest about Bender’s performance that, as with Rainteau’s, allows us to forgive the familiarity of the character. While the dialogue and character development in 32 Weeks don’t hit the mark on their own, the cast rescues the film from total corniness by creating characters that are believable in each moment.
Believable, that is, until the final scenes when all the pieces of the mystery fall into place. After a satisfying and intense flashback during which Cole remembers some of the key details she’s been missing, she decides on a new course of action that Hannah, strangely breaking character, enthusiastically encourages even though she’s been wary of any snap decisions on Cole’s part. But it’s not just Hannah who breaks character here — the final twist is a stretch for most of the main characters, putting them in situations where they are forced to make fast decisions and think on their feet. While their actions in these scenes are not totally out of the realm of possibility, things happen so fast that the natural, believable performances dissolve and lose credibility. In Cole’s final confrontation with her past, 32 Weeks takes an abrupt turn in tone that causes the story to crash and burn, breaking off from the rich mystery and fascinating character questions that it builds up to that point. For a story like 32 Weeks, which could have gone in so many different directions to enhance its themes about self-discovery and memory, this haphazard ending is especially disappointing. Instead, 32 Weeks turns to a cheap shock factor, creating a rushed ending to an otherwise compelling mystery.
Available now on VOD beginning November 12th, 2020.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.