If you hadn’t seen the poster or DVD cover of Forgetting the Girl before popping it in your DVD player, you would probably not realize it is a sort of horror movie until well into its running time. The film takes the shape of a confessional right from the beginning, with its lead character directly addressing a video camera and playing a slideshow while he talks around what he has done and about what has made him what he is. The audience is supposed to sort of identify and empathize with him as he discusses trying to remember a traumatic event from his childhood and how tough it is being a nice, single guy in the big city who is kind of awkward when interacting with the opposite sex. And maybe there would be a way to invoke some sympathy from the audience, if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve seen this guy before a million times. We’re familiar with his problems. Too familiar.
Christopher Denham plays the lead role of Kevin Wolfe, a photographer making a living doing head shots for actresses and models. Kevin has a Dark Secret from his childhood that he can’t seem to remember, but he believes that it is the reason he has so much trouble with women. This sort of goes directly against what we see of Kevin in practice: he plasters ads for his services all over New York and boldly approaches any attractive young woman he thinks might need head shots or a nice guy to come home to. He spends literally every day interacting with various women and asks all of them out. From his description, he means literally every single one of them. Most of them say no. Occasionally one will say yes, and Kevin will find himself in a difficult situation when things inevitably go bad. “Inevitably,” because Kevin is a sociopath, and he does not take rejection well.
The main problem with Forgetting the Girl is not necessarily that it attempts to portray a soulless murderer in a sympathetic light, it’s that the film does not seem to understand that this is an impossible task with this particular murderer. Kevin is confused why women aren’t interested in him, but he seems to make no secret that any kindness he extends to members of the opposite sex is a direct attempt on his part to trick women into liking him. In other words, Kevin is the ultimate “Nice Guy,” a man whose entire concept of relationships is founded on the idea that if he isn’t beating the hell out of a woman, she should be irresistibly attracted to him and that any relationship with a woman that is not sexual is not worth having. Even his relationships with the women in his life who aren’t his models are based on him getting something he needs out of them: he visits his grandmother Ruby (Phyllis Somerville) only so he can try to pry information out of her about his childhood, and he only keeps his assistant Jamie (Lindsay Beamish) around because he can’t do the models’ hair and makeup himself. We are supposed to empathize with Kevin because he has Problems, but his answer to these problems is to murder women, and he seems to have no compelling psychological reason to do so other than that it really bums him out when he tells a girl he loves her on their second date and then she acts all weird. All the women Kevin has any meaningful interaction with in his life are victims. He does not realize this because he feels he is more of a victim than anyone else ever could be.
Again, this sort of “Men with Problems” approach to a psychological horror story can work if the subject is compelling enough, but Kevin is just “Nice Guy syndrome” brought to life. He actually begins a monologue by saying “Women are objects,” and then goes on to explain in a way that makes very little sense, unless Kevin doesn’t realize that he is also made of blood and bones. Having a character say things like this does not necessarily mean that the filmmakers believe the same thing, or necessarily endorse this kind of thinking or behavior, but again, this is not a character for whom it is possible for any reasonable viewer to identify. Perhaps if Forgetting the Girl had been released before the advent of Men’s Rights groups on the internet, it could have provided some psychological insight to this type of character. Unfortunately, dropping by Reddit and spending ten minutes reading MRA discussions is considerably more illuminating (and, it must be said, insanely frustrating) than this little “character study” could ever be. In the deleted scenes section of the DVD, director Nate Taylor repeatedly explains that he cut particular things to keep Kevin more “likable,” which underlines the fundamental misunderstanding at the film’s core. Nothing Kevin says or does at any point makes him endearing or sympathetic, and at the end of the film we have learned nothing about him that we don’t know within a few minutes of his first monologue.
Maybe it’s time for someone to make a movie about a guy like Kevin who deals with his problems by figuring out he’s a selfish ass, getting his shit together and becoming a genuinely decent person. That would be something different. For the most part, Forgetting the Girl is just another tired slog through depressingly familiar territory, although it is certainly technically competent and the cast is fine (especially Lindsay Beamish as Jamie), and there are some nice visual touches. Maybe if you don’t suffer too much from “Dude Problem Fatigue,” it may be more worth your time. But if you’re tired of hearing men pawning off responsibility for their actions onto the women they victimize, either in films or in real life, you’re probably not going to find much to like here.
Film Movement released Forgetting the Girl on DVD on 1 April 2014. Special features include a commentary with director Nate Taylor, web videos, deleted scenes and the film’s trailer.