And then I found it was starring Kate Winslet. Saw her in Titanic, and expected her career to go down with that ship. She tried very hard to only be in roles which required no acting skill, but the along came Finding Neverland (see my review here and suddenly there was hope.
I'd always liked Jim Carrey, though he's too often way over the top. And I was curious to see Elijah Wood without hair on his feet.
The movie starts with Carrey's character (Joel) impulsively grabbing the train to Montauk, instead of the one going to Manhattan. He sees a woman (Winslet) on the beach. She keeps popping up and is on the train he takes back home. Her name is Clementine. She pushes herself on him, and the next thing we know she's grabbing her toothbrush and going over to his place.
Next we see Joel in tears, he drives to friends, one of whom shows him a note from some company telling them Clementine has had her memories of Joel erased, and to never mention her to him again.
At this point I have a very strong feeling of deja vu, coupled with "boy did I miss the boat". About 15 years ago I wrote a sci fi story Erasing Maxine which had the same idea. It was rejected by all the magazines I sent it to. In my story, which was based on something which actually happened to me, a long-time friend named Maxine and I had gone to Vegas on a 2-for-1 deal, Maxine had totally freaked out on me there, and I left in the middle of the night, took the next plane home, and had to take the bus and walk a mile to get to my apartment (she had driven us to the airport). That's when I went to have all my memories of her erased. Which is when I hear her in the next room, having me erased.
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, when Joel confirms Clementine has actually done this, he has them erase his memories of her as well.
Turns out the start of the film is after their minds had been erased. He met her at a picnic at Montauk, the first time around. There's a sub plot to slam the message into us even more - the doctor who invented the procedure is seduced by his lovely admin assistant (Mary, played by Kirsten Dunst). His wife catches them, and it comes out that the Good Doctor had an affair with Mary before, and had erased her memories.
Elijah wood plays a wimpy young assistant technician at the memory clinic, who falls for Clementine when they erase her, and he tries to use Joel's lines to win her heart. He is horribly mis-directed. The role needed someone who appeared crafty and ruthless, not someone who came across as a doormat. His Frodo character would have been a good fit here, I don't know why the director pushed him into the wimp mold.
Another mis-direct was the head techie, Frank, played by Mark Ruffalo. In real life Mark is a handsome guy, and having Dunst as his girlfriend would have made sense. But instead they geek him up, hit him with the Ugly Stick, and make that relationship unbelievable.
I have to say the movie takes my rejected story idea and fleshes it out into something which works well. There is some silliness involving the Incredible Shrinking Joel, and the chase-through-the-brain-map sequence was too long for my taste, but all in all it's a pretty good movie.
They kept Carrey from going over the top, actually made him a socially inept shy person, and somewhere Winslet has learned to act. Maybe. Throughout the movie I couldn't shake the feeling I was watching Madonna play that role. Madonna as she was in Desperately Seeking Susan only with the acting talent she aquired by the time Evita came along. Bottom line is Kate done good.