The era of the snide twenty-something feels like it’s been around too long, with snarky smartasses littering indie films, alt music, and just about every other tweet. Yet Max Thieriot has a reason to play his character in Foreverland with youthful, sarcastic edge: The 21-year-old Will is living with cystic fibrosis and has just suffered the death of a buddy with the same condition. Feeling for years that his demise is imminent, Will faces life with a grim hipster wit, Thieriot’s evenhanded performance more reliable and believable than the dialogue he’s given by neophyte screenwriter Shawn Riopelle.
But Riopelle, basing his script on director Max McGuire’s own experiences with CF, has some decent genre ideas that make Foreverland a moderately engaging drama, one with more potential than punch. To satisfy a posthumous request from Will’s pal, Bobby (a quick appearance by Thomas Dekker), Will hits the highway in Dad’s just-refurbished, highly clichéd classic car with Bobby’s sister (French-Canadian TV actress Laurence Leboeuf)—turning our pale character tale into a familiar road movie.
In a videotaped will, Bobby demands that his pal take his ashes from Vancouver to a mythical healing locale just over the U.S. border in Mexico. McGuire and Riopelle initially rely on Will’s dour cynicism to keep him from the journey, but a moment of enlightenment during a hospital visit gets Will behind the wheel, with plenty of health problems, not a lot of cash, and Bobby’s sister, Hannah, as co-pilot.
The unexpected medical incident that had landed Will in the hospital acts as Foreverland’s (somewhat hokey) emotional catalyst but, more importantly, it goes a long way toward detailing the pains and frustrations of cystic fibrosis, a condition that affects the lungs (among other organs). By taking the time to spell out what it means to suffer from CF, McGuire adds an authenticity the film needs and, at times, desperately craves.
Nebulizer treatments. Pounding on the chest as a form of physical therapy. Myriad other medications, which Will rattles off like an old pro when updating an inquiring nurse. The specifics come from McGuire’s world—the director, like his main character, eats a pancake stack daily to keep up caloric demand—and they inform the audience both about CF and the dangers in Will’s life. It allows us to build a sympathetic connection with the character, to see him beyond his wry exterior and obsession with coffins.
On the long, strange trip to Mexico, Foreverland travels from novice moves (yes, the dreaded montage) to moments of real surprise and poignancy. Thieriot and Leboeuf keep a consistent tone but don’t find their groove, individually and as a pair, often enough. Luckily, the film invests enough quality time in both characters to keep us involved in what their final mile may hold. And when McGuire occasionally lets Foreverland step off the edge, the film is at its most interesting.
Two notable actors show up in wonderfully meaty supporting roles: Juliette Lewis, as an estranged aunt, still knows how to turn a surreal line of dialogue, reminding us exactly how to play cuckoo; and the great Demián Bichir chews up the surroundings as a misunderstood mystic south of the border.
In the currently crowded VOD movie-watching landscape in which Foreverland is playing, the film is likely to get overlooked in the company of heftier titles with bigger stars. But there is something to be discovered here, for a particular audience that enjoys shedding a tear or two, from a movie that, at the least, avoids the obvious path to being maudlin or quirky.
Director: Max McGuire
Writer: Shawn Riopelle
Starring: Max Thieriot, Laurence Leboeuf, Sarah Wayne Callies, Juliette Lewis, Matt Frewer, Demián Bichir, Miriam Colon
Release Date: May 28, 2013