This logic-defying film is interesting yet doesn't take the time to dive into the characters' backstories.
The new film "The Souvenir" explores the implications and severity of codependency. But it fails to delve into the protagonist's backstories, leaving us clueless as to how they became so dysfunctional.
Set in 1980s London, this semi-autobiographical drama opens with an introduction to Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a visionary college student majoring in filmmaking. At a party she meets Anthony, (Tom Burke) who works for the British Foreign Office. He's charming, sophisticated and somewhat off-putting. Julie is immediately smitten.
Anthony's a master seducer. Almost immediately she allows him to move into her flat. Soon after, she's willingly giving him money, no questions asked. He comes and goes as he pleases without explanation. And Julie never demands one.
One day, after having spent the weekend in Paris, Anthony returns with two small wounds on the inside of his arm. Julie assumes that he injured himself and let's it go. She begins borrowing money from her wealthy mother (Tilda Swinton, yes, real life Mom) at an alarming rate by lying about why she's doing so. As Julie acquiesces, Anthony's behavior becomes demeaning and erratic.
Director-writer Joanna Hogg ("Unrelated") has created an emotional roller-coaster ride in this character-driven piece that seems to defy logic. There's nothing in Julie's past that indicates why she would tolerate such abusive behavior. Her naivete when it comes to Anthony doesn't jive with her intellectual savvy. There's also no clue as to why he's such a flawed individual.
And though it's difficult to empathize with these broken souls, it's impossible to not be mesmerized by their amazing performances. Burke's ability to play a duplicitous dandy is stimulating to behold. His lure is impeccable as he draws us into his web. Swinton Byrne is absolutely fascinating in her first adult role. The range of emotions required for this complicated portrayal seem almost inherent to her. Or dare we speculate, inherited?
"The Souvenir" is a commentary on addictions and their devastating effects on those we love. Hogg observes that they don't discriminate as to whom they infect. Brace for the sequel, which is forthcoming.