REVIEW: Waiting for Forever Isn't Over Soon Enough
I generally feel there's no need to beat up on a modestly budgeted, small-release movie that's never going to pack 'em in at the multiplex. But I'm making an exception for Waiting for Forever, not because its intentions aren't good (I'm sure they are), but for the way it introduces complicated emotional situations only to drop them, for its bizarre efforts to make stalking "cute," for its clueless underuse of good actors (Richard Jenkins, Blythe Danner) and for its overall simpering, "He's not crazy, he's special!" tone. If your idea of a great Valentine's Day is to ring up your secret beloved and breathe heavily into the phone, this is the movie for you.
No one in Waiting for Forever actually does that, of course. That would be a little too obvious. Instead we have a protagonist, Will (played by English actor Tom Sturridge), who's been in love with a girl from his neighborhood, Emma (Rachel Bilson), since the two were kids. They were what you'd call, innocently enough, childhood sweethearts. Will's parents died in a train accident when he was young. (The movie opens with a sepia-toned flashback of the disaster that makes it look as if it happened around the time the Titanic went down.) Emma was the only one who could comfort Will during this terrible time. For that reason, Will has not only carried a torch for her; he's followed her to every city she's ever lived in, from Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles, working as a street performer and just waiting for her to show up.
Now, Emma's father -- a cantankerous, unreadable fellow played by Richard Jenkins -- has become ill. She's returned to the old homestead, and our delusional little friend has followed her there, wearing his favored outfit of pajamas, vest, red sneakers and bowler hat. Back home among friends and family, Will has many occasions to squinch up his face whenever anyone (particularly his banker brother, played by Scott Mechlowicz, who has some common sense but is painted as the bad guy) suggests that he might not be living in the real world.
Yet the movie -- directed by James Keach and written by Steve Adams -- insists on painting Will as a lovable misfit. Emma has no idea how Will feels about her; she hasn't seen him in years -- he worships her from afar, but doesn't have the guts to approach her. So when he arrives back home, he does stuff like lurk outside her family's house, waiting for a glimpse of her. When he talks about her, he says things like, "In my dreams I breathe her in. I feel her in the blood in my heart," and the female characters (among them a longtime friend played by Nikki Blonski) swoon, while the male characters -- wisely -- go "Eeww!" At least someone's got the right idea in this godforsaken movie.
Emma has her own problems -- she's a successful actress, but her show has just been canceled, and her hothead beau Aaron (Matthew Davis) appears to have a few screws loose. But the movie gives her little to do other, than to be a bland receptor with a little goddessy stuff mixed in. Bilson, who formerly played Mischa Barton's blunt but charming sidekick on The O.C., has some style and wit, and the movie does grant her one moment -- after Will has finally approached her -- in which she lays the truth out for him tactfully but firmly. Her kindness has an edge to it.
But neither Will nor the movie around him gets the message -- he's still allowed to be the movie's winsome Chaplinesque naif. There's nothing wrong with the core idea of Waiting for Forever, the notion that a character might, after a traumatic experience, feel the need to retreat into a comfortable fantasy. But it takes too long for the story to come around to the fact that Will is just plain nuts -- and even then, he gets over it in a heartbeat, and the movie's baffling ending suggests that maybe there is hope that his skewed dream could become reality.
Other complicated relationships are similarly glossed over: Jenkins' character continually berates his perpetually beaming, eager-to-please wife (played by Blythe Danner), and even after the two characters have their big truth-telling moment, the dynamic of their partnership is still a mystery. (Partnership dynamics are always a mystery in real life; only in fiction can they have a little shaping, which is why it's sometimes nice to have it.)
There are other lapses: A tragedy that ought to affect one of the characters very deeply barely registers. The focus here is almost always on Will, his delusions and his baggy pajama bottoms. Sturridge shouldn't be judged as an actor on this single, insufferable role, but his moony-eyed musings, his tortured grimaces, his go-for-broke "Kids love me 'cos I'm stupid!" grin -- I couldn't flee the theater fast enough. The numerous flashback sequences of Emma and Will's childhood friendship don't help: They're shot in muted, misty tones and look like those greeting cards featuring little kids wearing mommy's shoes and oversize dress-up hats, offering daisies to one another. I'm sure Waiting for Forever was intended to be a sweet, simple film about the power of love. But please -- keep your daisies to yourself.