Directed by: Rowan Joffe
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Anne-Marie Duff
Two decades after its release, the premise of Groundhog Day has strangely proved influential for a variety of movies recently. Last year we saw it not so loosely reworked as a time travel plot in the romantic British comedy About Time, while earlier this summer it formed the basis for the all too neglected Tom Cruise sci-fi romp Edge of Tomorrow. Now it's been reworked, along with the premise of the Adam Sandler comedy 50 First Dates, as the basis for a thriller in Before I Go To Sleep.
Christine (Kidman) wakes each morning with no idea how she found herself sharing a bed with a strange man, Ben (Firth), who informs her that he is actually her husband of 14 years. While in her 20s, Christine suffered a traumatic incident, resulting in her being found naked in a truck depot near an airport, which left her suffering a form of amnesia that erases her memory each time she sleeps. Presumably happy to be married to a Colin Firth lookalike, Christine doesn't seem all that bothered by the situation, though that could be a result of Kidman's general lack of emotion as an actress. When she receives a phone call from Dr Nash (Strong), she learns they have been working together to recall her memory, a secret withheld from Ben. As Christine begins to slowly retrieve pieces of her past, she comes to question the situation she finds herself in.
There's something inherently creepy about the idea behind Groundhog Day, About Time and 50 First Dates. All three movies ask us to identify with a male protagonist who secretly manipulates the female object of her desire. It sounds more fitting as the premise of a psychological thriller than a romantic comedy, so Before I Go To Sleep should be a winner. Imagine if Andie McDowell began to cotton onto Bill Murray's game, and the film presented her point of view as a victim of his conniving scheme. Sadly, a great pitch is squandered in a movie that's bogged down by expository dialogue and inexplicable plotholes.
Rowan Joffe, writing and directing from SJ Watson's novel, can't find a way to tell this story visually, so we're forced to endure a barrage of badly written dialogue, most of which serves to explain the next plot twist to us. It's a story in which we're asked to question everything we're told, but thanks to the many unexplained plot points, we end up questioning the script itself. From the film's opening, we're immediately forced to question the timeline of events, as the details the film presents simply don't add up. We're told, for example, that Christine was found naked, covered by a bed sheet, in a depot near an airport, but the film never actually explains how this occurred, and it seems implausible from the evidence presented. Little details like this quickly pile up, so by the midpoint of the story we've lost all faith in the script. When the end credits roll, you'll wish you could temporarily suffer amnesia, so you can wipe the memory of this headache inducer.
By Eric Hillis