All week I’ve been quoting one of the many hilarious and true lines from Stephen Cone’s IN MEMORIAM, “All I’m trying to say is there’s something and its rubbing me, in a way that is not right, you know- wrong.” Jonathan, the guileless speaker of that awkward utterance is talking about the death of two co-eds who were found naked outside their dorm. A night of drinking and adventurous naughtiness turned tragic for Jay and Candace: on a misplaced dare they attempt to make love on the roof and fall to their deaths. The news was met with merciless ridicule from the public.
Jonathan (Ian Forester) becomes fascinated with their death, not in a creepy way – although his manner sometimes sways in that direction- and delves into the case. First, trolling Facebook for pictures of the couple and moving to interviews with family members and the group of friends who last saw them alive. It amazed even me how accessible the life of a stranger can be to us through the Internet. Jonathan’s interest turns into a need to take action and tear down the humorous reaction to Jay and Candace. He decides to direct a re-enactment of their last day and enlists the friends and family of the subjects to assist in telling the story.
IN MEMORIAM delicately mixes incredibly hilarious scenes with a surprising and heartwarming story about the power of art to reflect and illuminate a life. Jonathan’s fascination with Jay and Candace’s death begins to consume him and his reaction seems out of place. Yet, Forester plays it well by not totally assuaging our suspicions of his character, but conveying a genuine desire to see these young people remembered with love and respect. During the making of the tribute film, Jonathan includes many of the victims families and friends, allowing them to make casting choices, act in the film, and watch the filming. The scenes of cast and crew re-creating Jay and Candace’s last day are incredibly powerful and beautiful. As their parents look on, I could feel the wonder and gratitude for this chance to see their children as they remembered them one last time.
IN MEMORIAM has heart and humor in all the right places. We leave Jonathan, after creating this beautiful art piece, realizing the film was only the start of memorializing the death of these two lively young people and perhaps taking a small step to living his life with more of their adventurous spirit. It affirms for film lovers the power of the medium and challenges us to make that vitality a part of our daily lives.
I cannot agree with my esteemed partner more but I will try.
It may sound prejudiced, but after reviewing many micro-budget and local films, I feel a great sense of release in writing this triumphal sentence: this movie is very, very good. I know that just because a picture is low-budget and local doesn’t mean it’s somehow more incredible that it’s good, but my mind automatically associates that fluid digital frame-rate with over-the-top directing and performances that I want to give the benefit of the doubt, but just can’t bring myself to enjoy. IN MEMORIAM is one of those rare experiences that reminds me that all films are created equal. The spit-shine of expensive post-production can patch up a poor film’s rough bits, clothing it in a specious sheen of ‘quality,’ but it is only an illusion. IN MEMORIAM is naked brilliance. Enjoyable, entertaining, funny, sad and true.
My only, very small nitpick, though I entirely concur with Kamaria’s gushing over the performances, is the one or two odd moments where the dialogue is a touch too smart for its own good. The last scene in particular left me missing the subtext of Cone’s clever dialogue, but these moments are few and may even contribute to the film’s already robust rewatchability (and if that’s not a verb, IN MEMORIAM proves that it should be), as I found myself wanting to rewind and try again to ‘get the joke’. Judging by the state of film these days, ‘too smart’ is a good problem to have. It helps that absolutely every performance in this film is good. Some are truly excellent. Jen Spyra and Sadie Rogers come to mind, as well as Sue Redman’s teary monologue in the dead center of the film, a steady-cam display of a natural acting grace.
In my opinion, the greatest strength of this film is its thematic value. Our hero has a real conflict with the values of our vacuous internet age. Cone isn’t even above using the improv stage, with which he is surely intimately familiar, for an effective moment of sly self-deprecation. It’s so hard to express this sort of abstracted malcontent without falling into the pitfalls of navel-gazing and an intentional obscurity that says to the audience “if you don’t understand the problem, you’re not on my level”. Cone realizes interior drama like a master puppeteer, making plain internal moral and existential struggles that are, by definition, not obvious. Jonathan grapples with the painful reality that somewhere along the line, our world has turned into a stage of crass improvisational comedy (Improv Everywhere, anyone?) and he must prove himself honest, true and hard-working to do battle with the generational cynicism that ferments in the shadowy netherworld of the internet.
Stephen Cone is not an underground filmmaker pulling together some coarse bid to be ‘discovered’ by the Hollywood powers that be, he is an excellent filmmaker making excellent films right where he is, and his latest film shows a triumphal contentment with that fact. One scene in which Jonathan chooses the camera with which to shoot his movie, drives it home. He chooses the “piece of crap” outdated model over the expensive GL2. “There’s just something about it” he muses. Cone is right at home in his humble environs, though I tingle at the greatness he could unleash if ever granted access to a decent budget. IN MEMORIUM is now one of my favorite films of the year and I hope that everyone in America will get the chance to fall as hard for its simple pleasures as I have.