You Can Live Forever

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A magnetic Anwen O’Driscoll re-purposes much of the Kristen Stewart style and look to play a grumpy teenage lesbian who becomes fixated on a devout Jehovah’s Witness in smalltown 1990s America. Who’s going to convert who?

Or whom, if you’re feeling fancy, which You Can Live Forever never is, nor preachy or finger-waggy. It’s not even unfair to Jehovah’s Witnesses – well, not much – a sitting target for films like this, which are all about self-expression and freedom for young women where the Witnesses are all about the patriarchy and control.

Specifics, though, specifics. Black-clad hoodie-wearing Jaime (O’Driscoll) has been sent by her mother to stay with her aunt and uncle in the town ma grew up in but escaped from after she left “the Truth”, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses call their worldview. Jaime’s dad has recently died and her mother has gone to pieces, though there’s a suspicion that at least part of the reason Jaime is there is to imbibe the fine old-fashioned values of aunt Beth (Liane Balaban) and her husband, Jean-Francois (Antoine Yared), believers who have no children of their own.

All goes well, in a pouty-teen-off-her-turf kind of way, with Jaime reluctantly taking part in various Jehovah’s Witness events and even, more reluctantly, getting into a demure dress to go to a meeting, where – blammo – she catches sight of Marike (June Laporte) and is instantly smitten. After the meeting Marike comes up to say hi and is warm and even a touch gushy towards the new girl in town. She’s just being friendly towards a fellow Witness, obviously, and a young woman around her own age.

Whether there is more to it than that is what the film teases us with, also introducing a nice guy at school (Hasani Freeman) for Jaime to get friendly and even a little flirty with. This is more grist to the mill since the Witnesses can just about tolerate Jaime’s half-in-half-out status vis-a-vis the Truth, but Nathan (Freeman) is a complete outsider and so must be shunned, as Witnesses shun all non-believers, even members of their own family.

No, it’s not particularly on side with the Witnesses. But nor is it too down on them and even ventures out on a “field work” exercise with Marike and Jaime, to show that the door-knocking “witnessing” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is as fun for them as it is for the people on whose doors they knock. The Witnesses are in this story to provide the necessary Obstacle which Jaime and Marike must get over or around if they are to push their relationship out of the friend zone, something the repeated sleepovers at Marike’s are precipitating.

Nathan in the classroom
Hasani Freeman as Nathan

We’re on the young women’s side. O’Driscoll and Laporte make it easy to feel that way, with gently persuasive performances in the same key as the whole film – soft and puttylike – with the soundtrack by CFCF (real name Michael Silver) which accesses 1990s electronic dance music to deliver warm gushes of euphoria as friendship yields to something more intense.

There are under-explored themes and under-explored characters. Most notably Hasani Freeman’s schoolboy friend Nate, who has little to do but does it heroically. Aunt Beth is a more interesting absence, since she’s a woman who put off having kids on account of the imminence of armageddon, only for it not to arrive. As for Beth’s husband, Jean-Francois, he does little more than scowl, as do most of the adult men in this story.

There are barriers aplenty in this Canadian movie – between big city and small town, hetero and homo, believer and non-believer and even between French-speaking and English-speaking, another under-explored area which looks like it’s going to go somewhere when two French-speaking potential boyfriends are introduced, only to be forgotten about fairly quickly.

Sarah Watts directed alongside Mark Slutsky and the pair of them also wrote the screenplay, which is based on Watts’s own early years growing up gay with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Given all that, You Can Live Forever sounds like an issue-driven movie, but it isn’t quite, which is massively to its credit. It lets emotions do the work and places its faith in its actors, the two leads in particular. And if you’re wondering why I’m now mentioning performances for the third time, it’s because it’s the performances that make this lovely movie work.

You Can Live Forever – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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