Always Remember Me

By Nell Teare | Drama
A young woman confronts her past at her best friend's 7th birthday party.

Sarah and her new boyfriend Adam are off to attend a birthday party for an old family friend one sunny afternoon. It’s a celebration for her childhood best friend Amy — only Amy’s been dead for 18 years.

Sarah, along with Amy’s family, has gone along with this ritual for years. But seen through the eyes of her boyfriend, Sarah begins to observe how this annual gathering has frozen the family for almost two decades — and how she must confront the past for everyone to move forward.

Written by Melissa Jane Osborne and directed by Nell Teare, viewers may easily believe from the description that this story is a drama. But as a dark comedy, it peels back the layers of a strange, eccentric birthday party, initially building up a sense of bright, almost whimsical oddness. But through a deft, skillful and ultimately compassionate sleight-of-hand in the writing, it reveals the painful truth at the core of the situation with undeniable impact and resonance.

The most striking visuals of the short revolve around the combination of aggressively cheerful, sun-filled suburbia and the bright fanciful details of a child’s birthday party, with its colorful unicorn-themed cake and pinatas. The aesthetic is eye-catching, but with the 80s hair and a certain studied rigidity in both the decor and the behavior of the hostess, viewers can tell something is off.

The excellent writing skillfully utilizes the boyfriend’s POV to lay out key exposition and also immerse viewers into an odd milieu with slightly different rules from the outside world. Adam gamely plays along with Sarah, as do many of the other family members and guests, with varying degrees of acceptance, understanding and reluctance.

Amy’s mother Kim emerges as the party’s “true believer,” and while the film finds some comedy in how far she goes — and how much the other partygoers are willing to indulge her — the humor is never mean-spirited or overly sharp. Instead, it underlines just how Amy’s mother has been stuck in time by her grief over her daughter’s death, and in turn kept others from moving on as well, including Sarah.

Actor Luci MacNair offers a grounded performance as Sarah, who confronts her past and her survivor’s guilt, but as Amy’s grieving mother, actor Wendy Haines’s performance is the emotional center of the film. Kim’s deep denial keeps her from facing the full extent of her loss, and watching the collapse of the scaffolding that she’s built to prevent her from confronting her daughter’s death is key to the film’s powerfully wrenching ending.

Though there’s a final moment of humor at the film’s end, “Always Remember Me” — which is inspired by true events — possesses a gut-wrenching emotion that can be difficult for dark comedies to pull off. But it works here because the storytelling never forgets the tragedy of losing a child, and the emotional truth that grief can often immobilize us from moving forward in life. Denial may insulate us for some time from the harsh reality of loss, but in the end, sorrow catches up with us — and the only choice is to acknowledge and accept the pain of it, and finally move ahead with a lot of courage and strength.

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