32 Weeks (2020)

“I wonder if we ever stop lying to each other,” says Cole (the excellent Nicole Souza) to Simon (Scott Bender) in a record store, about halfway through writer/director Brian Cavallaro’s 32 Weeks. “I think it’s just easy in the beginning of a relationship because it’s like a blank slate – you know, I can make you think I’m whoever I want you to think I am.”

On a previous visit to this record store with Simon, Cole had suggested that it was the first time she had ever set foot in the place – but now she has inadvertently let slip that she had in fact been there before on a date with an earlier boyfriend. It is, as Cole says, the sort of harmless little white lie that new lovers tell, so as not to leave the impression that they have a history – but Cole is herself a blank slate of a different kind, after a head injury in a car accident has left her with amnesia. Now she has no memory of the last 32 weeks before the crash, which means that she has forgotten meeting Simon six weeks ago, let alone going with him to the record store for the first time, and she has also forgotten meeting, let alone painfully splitting up with, her former boyfriend Warren (Cameron Tagge). Encouraged by her neurologist Dr Caldwell (Kris Ann Russell) and best friend Hannah (Nicole Rainteau) – whom she has known much longer than the 32 weeks – to try and recover those missing eight months, violin teacher Cole revisits old stomping grounds and experiences vivid, fragmentary, often traumatic flashbacks triggered by listening to music.

Though now a complete stranger to Cole, nice-guy Simon seems happy enough to take her back to their old haunts – the beach, a taco stand, the home of his best friend Josh (KiDane Kelati), his own apartment – and to wait patiently for her to learn to love him again. Meanwhile Warren, whom Cole had deleted from her life long before the amnesia struck, circles like a stalker, while still occupying a happy place in Cole’s impressionistic memories. So, much of 32 Weeks plays out like a love triangle, and a wide-eyed newcomer’s tour of LA, filtered as it is through the perspective of a character who is experiencing everything for her first as well as her second time – think Peter Segal’s 50 First Dates (2004) told from the amnesiac inamorata’s point of view. Like the heroine of a romantic melodrama, Cole must choose between two men in her life – but she also struggles to recall what her relationship with either of them was really like, as the details remain lost in the elliptical spaces between her very partial, yet growing memories.  

Like Cole puzzled by her partial recognition of a collage at an art gallery, we are not getting the full picture. For much as Josh is delighted that Cole has forgotten how much she used to hate him, other characters too freely withhold uncomfortable information or inconvenient truths from Cole, or more straightforwardly gaslight, manipulate and lie to make Cole think she is whoever they want her to be. So what starts as a muddled woman’s mystery melodrama, with Cole set on a course to rediscover and possibly to reinvent herself, becomes, in its last minutes, a thriller (of sorts). 32 Weeks also serves as a cautionary tale, with a very negative view of the Santa Monica dating scene. Cole may in the past have told the occasional fib to a beau, but the biggest danger to this blank slate now is letting predatory men define who she is and what she wants, in a scenario where identity is up for grabs and there are no accidents.

© Anton Bitel