Brit director Sally Potter (‘Orlando’, ‘The Party’) utilises the star power of Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning and Laura Linney in a dementia drama that promises a lot but is ultimately empty-headed. Bardem is Leo, a man living with frontotemporal dementia who revels in having a bedroom window that looks right out onto a busy New York train track. When we first meet him is lying prostrate on his bed, his clothes strewn across the floor. He’s a wreck, which explains the panicked phone calls and concern of his twenty-something daughter Molly (Fanning). She decides to take the morning off work to get him checked out.
The narrative jumps back and forth in time, reflecting how Leo looks at the world. Each moment delivers a tiny bit of a puzzle explaining who he is, more often than not to questions no one is asking. For example, why is Molly so blonde when Leo is so dark-haired and the love of his life, Dolores, is played by Salma Hayek? Leo’s an author haunted by his ghosts, the decisions he hasn’t made, or couldn’t make, hence the title of the movie. The drama is full of empty promises, with an unsatisfying end, which is forewarned in a laughable scene taking place in Greece when Bardem chats to two young ladies. There are several car crashes; most notably, the decision to tackle and lambast Trump’s treatment of Mexican immigrants comes out of nowhere.
It isn’t a total write-off, though. Bardem’s commanding performance echoes his Cannes best-actor winning turn in ‘Biutiful’ and Fanning makes the most of some desultory dialogue. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan (‘American Honey’) does stunning work with landscapes, but sometimes it’s necessary to close your ears when Potter’s piano score starts chiming. Her film can’t decide if it wants to be about the stress of looking after a loved one with dementia, or the study of a broken man.