Panda Si?cle: In Remember Me, Pattinson is both cuddly and generous.
Panda Si?cle: In Remember Me, Pattinson is both cuddly and generous.

Remember Me will give viewers a wicked shock: Edward Cullen has a personality! Robert Pattinson, thus far so perilously trudging the road that would forever entomb him as Twilight’s marble-bodied, glittering-yet-dull va-va-vampire, is given permission to breathe in Allen Coulter’s romantic drama. And he’s charming. And witty. And, well, alive.

Pattinson’s charisma, along with that of his co-star, Lost’s Emilie de Ravin, elevate what could have been a dreary affair. There’s a genuine shock in the final minutes of Will Fetters’ debut script, a sucker-punch that is arguably unnecessary yet results in a finale most wrenchingly felt if it remains a surprise. Not that the story leading up to it is all roses. The film is predominantly about death—homicidal, suicidal, accidental. It’s about fractured families, depression, and listlessness, and how those cracks can draw people to one another in seach of soothing. Misery loves company, and all that.

Yet Remember Me is also about love, and before you roll your eyes, know that it’s one of those rare films that makes what could have come across as treacle and melodrama feel real. The film opens on a Brooklyn subway platform, where a woman is robbed and murdered in front of her young daughter. Ten years later, the girl, Ally (de Ravin), is a college student who lives a mostly peaceful existence with her police detective father (Chris Cooper) in Queens. We’re also introduced to Tyler (Pattinson), a classmate of Ally’s who is first shown rushing to a memorial service while smelling, as his little sister notes, “like Listerine and beer.” The gathering is for Tyler’s older brother, Michael, who’d killed himself six years ago. Along with his 11-year-old sister, Caroline (Ruby Jerins), the group includes their mother (Lena Olin), stepdad (Gregory Jbara), and icy Wall Street father (Pierce Brosnan).

A bit of convolution leads to Tyler and Ally meeting and falling in love. The setup is, admittedly, the clichéd cinematic lie of omission that will inevitably be revealed and result in plenty of door-slamming and sulking. There’s also the requisite wacky roommate, here Tyler’s (Tate Ellington), who serves as instigator, peacemaker, and source of comic relief. But Ellington’s Aiden is actually funny without being obnoxious, and the how of the central couple’s budding relationship is easily forgivable in light of its believable progression and the relaxed chemistry between the two leads.

Yes, this is all rather vague, but it’s more worthwhile to undersell the particulars of the story in favor of highlighting its strengths. Remember Me may theoretically dwell in the moribund, but in execution it’s tender, sweet, and appealing in its realistic, intimate portrayal of relationships both strained and smooth. De Ravin is luminous and offers a character who is independent, smart, and assuredly individual—in other words, a typical sorority-shunning college girl. Yet it’s Pattinson who’ll make you swoon. Disheveled handsomeness and effortless cool aside, his Tyler is simply a good guy, one who adores and encourages his artistically gifted little sister and fights for her when Dad or her classmates leave her feeling like an unloved outcast. He defends others, too—breaking up a fight and insisting that the innocent parties be let go gets him arrested—but the chain-smoking and often hot-tempered 21-year-old is no angel, either.

It’s this steady balance in the script (sometimes sad, sometimes joyful), characters (appealing but flawed), and relationships (butting heads with the ones you love) that makes Remember Me so impressive and, more important, enjoyable. It’s impossible to watch Tyler with Caroline or Ally without smiling. Twihards, at least those mature enough to get it, may be stunned seeing their dreamboat morphed into an actual person. The danger is that Team Edward will now expect more from him in the future, agreeing with Aiden when he scolds a sullen Tyler: “I’ve had enough of this brooding introvert shit.”