As I watched Foreverland, I couldn’t help but recall last year’s well-received Silver Linings Playbook (TMT Review). Both are about a man with an incurable illness who comes to terms with it through a newfound sense of purpose. Like Silver Linings Playbook, Foreverland tries to tackle difficult subject matter, paint it in a realistic light, and offer insight into one of the many things that makes life suck. And like Playbook, Foreverland is too preoccupied with pleasing the audience and providing a neat, satisfactory ending to accomplish these goals.
Will is a 21-year-old with cystic fibrosis, a disorder affecting the lungs, liver, and pancreas. It results in frequent lung infections, and among other things, an insufficient absorption of salt by the membranes of the body. In fact, “salt” is a motif carried throughout the film, but without any apparent deeper meaning or reason. At the start of the film, Will seems obsessed with his own mortality. We first meet him as he is shopping for a casket and he loves reminding people that he has a short “expiry date.” He gains his sense of purpose when his friend Bobby dies and entrusts him with the task of spreading his ashes at a mysterious healing shrine in Mexico. So Will sets out on a cross continent journey accompanied by Hannah, Bobby’s sister and Will’s inevitable love interest.
“I feel that life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable. Those are the two categories, you know? The horrible would be, like… terminal cases, and blind people, cripples. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else… so when you go through life you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because you’re very lucky to be miserable.” – Woody Allen, Annie Hall
Will’s case is both. Cystic fibrosis causes pain and suffering, which are inherently horrible things. But Will is also miserable, coming across as self-obsessed and isolating. He’s not someone you’d want to spend time hanging around. The difference between Will and Alvy Singer or Harold Chasen is that he’s missing their sardonic wit and charming morbidity. Will ends up being someone you pity, but not a character that can carry an entire film.
Foreverland lacks all the things that make road movies and cross country trips so appealing. Lessons are not learned, inner truths are not exposed, and the detour to include a scene with Juliette Lewis is especially painful (and not in the way the filmmakers intended). But even worse than this is that the film relies on the notion that if it spends the first 75 minutes making you feel terrible, and the final 15 minutes cheering you up, then it has provided an experience. But this method is so tired and worn that it only leaves a bad taste in your mouth (the same kind a nebulizer leaves, I’ll bet). Foreverland is filmmaking at its cheapest and most manipulative. But if there is any shot at a silver lining for the film, it’s that the Hallmark Channel is always looking for new programming.