‘Foreverland’ is not just bad, but stereotypically so

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Directed by Max McGuire
Written by Max McGuire and Shawn Riopelle
Canada, 2011

Listening to a Canadian movie related podcast recently (not Sound on Sight. Shocking, indeed), the hosts of the show agreed that the Canadian film industry lacks a certain panache, a certain individuality and, most importantly, the confidence required for it to stand proudly on its own two feet to impress local cinema goers and, it the best case scenarios, make some headway in the international markets. The lone exception, one that has lasted for so many years it might as well be considered a constant, is Québec’s output, but then again, that province has always done things a little differently than its anglophone compatriots. Save David Croneberg and perhaps Sarah Polley, the great Canadian English language filmmakers are far and few between. Sadly, Max Mcguire’s Foreverland only reinforces that stereotype and them some.

Will (Max Thieriot) is a young twentysomething lad who is afflicted by cystic fibrosis, just as one of his now deceased childhood friends was. They had spent their young lives as friends and now that his companion has left this world, it seems only a matter of time before the same fate befalls Will. He takes it in stride to a degree, paying amusing visits to a coffin salesman (Matt Frewer, yes from Max Hedroom) as he prepares to meet his maker. His course takes a sharp turn the day he is summoned to meet with the man responsible for taking care of his deceased friend’s will. The individual plays a DVD for Will, in which his late friend explains, nay, pleads that he transport his ashes from from Vancouver to a small village in Mexico where, reportedly, a practitioner of religious rituals will perform a final rite wherein the ashes shall be dropped into a mystic underground lake. Crazy as it may sound, Will and Hanna (Laurence Leboeuf), the sister of the deceased, convince themselves to embark on the mission. The journey begins smoothly enough by car, but once the engine gives up somewhere, who knows where, on the west coast, that is when the simple drive down to old Mexico becomes far more arduous than either Will or Hanna ever bargained for.

‘What McGuire and co-screenwriter Shawn Riopelle concoct out of that premise is flat, shockingly uninspired and, the most egregious flaw by any movie standard, boring.’

Max Mcguire, with his film Foreverland, abides by a series of unfortunate film themed stereotypes that many a Canadian cinema buff would rather see annihilated, yet come on rearing their ugly heads time and time again. Said stereotypical missteps relate to film on different, interconnected levels. There is the issue of script and narrative, and the issue of the film’s place in Canadian cinema. To begin with, the matter of the picture’s script and general storyline shall be studied. On its surface, Foreverland offers a potentially interesting premise, replete with the possibilities of characters discovering themselves through a drama about life and death, quite literally in this case given the fatal illness which has condemned the protagonist. So far so good, thankfully. What McGuire and co-screenwriter Shawn Riopelle concoct out of that premise is flat, shockingly uninspired and, the most egregious flaw by any movie standard, boring. The stench of awkward familiarity begins early and never lets up, with characters spouting lines which, presumably, are meant to lend the film a fleeting sense of comedy and quirk that lightens the story’s darker undertones (in a ‘black comedy’ style, if one wills), yet only precious few of the lines land, with the same criticism aimed at some Will’s idiosyncrasies at the start of the picture. A perfect example illustrates this: early on, during one of Will’s many visits to the coffin shop, he invites the customer service representative played by Matt Frewer, to just once do as he does, that is, rest in a closed coffin for a few minutes and appreciate the tranquillity one can find inside. It is quirk for quirk’s sake and nothing more. Lines such as ‘a coffin contains enough air for a man to live for however many (paraphrase) hours…so why does it feel like I can stay here forever?’ are eye roll inducing. They reek both of pretension and cheekiness without adding anything notable to story or character. This is a practice more than one young filmmaker has committed. Director McGuire is not the first, nor will he certainly be the last to believe that in order to distinguish himself from the ocean of fellow up and coming filmakers, quirk and oddball humour is a must. Well, if everybody goes for quirk and oddball humour, than it loses its individuality, does it not?

As much as one would hope to argue otherwise, things to do improve afterwards once the two main characters set out on their quest for the mysterious Mexican church. The same musical style (light, folk style guitar rock) accompanies all montage sequences and whatever supposedly emotional beats Foreveland tries to hit. How many films, especially pseudo existential road trip ones, feature this kind of a soundtrack? Is that the only genre worthy of musically expressing some of the themes and emotions the story wishes to convey? The smaller, plot driven beats incredulously suffer the same fate. Of course there comes a point when Will and Hannah come to disagree on something, when the emotional weight of their shared experience creates a friction. Yet, the instigating event to said animosity feels embarrassingly shoehorned into the script. Without revealing exactly when and how the protagonist’s angst shows itself, there is no hint whatsoever that Will should ever have become bitter in the first place. The film attempts to link the outburst to a scene which immediately preceded the argument, but even then the connection is so ridiculously tenuous that is it next to impossible to actually believe Will could ever start to shun Hannah as he does. It is conflict, first, for the sake of conflict and, second, so they can make up and make out afterwards.

‘As a singular film, Foreverland follows in the same footsteps as countless other films of this ilk to the point where the familiarity is yawn inducing and, in the worst cases, poorly constructed.’

Maybe, maybe if the cast was up to the task of giving the film a bit of a lift despite the sorry script and direction then Foreveland could claim some redeeming qualities. Even in this department the film is mostly not up to snuff. Max Thieriot is the least engaging actor of the bunch, and he is the focus of the entire story! The performance is stiff, practically emotionless, and the rare instances when he is asked to emote some happiness or sadness, he essentially adheres to his original numbness. He plays a dying man, that much any film goer can understand, and such a characteristic shall undoubtedly play a part on the performance of an actor in the role, yet that does not excuse a boredom inducing performance. If his days are numbered, then preferably the audience should feel something for the man (it may be pertinent to note that among his other films are included Jumper, My Soul to Take and The Pacifier. Not an enviable track record to say the least). Laurence Leboeuf does her best to inject some life into her scenes with Thieriot, although the former’s own limitations prevent her from escaping the failings of the script and more specially the numbing lines she has to deliver. It is too little too late by the time Demiàn Bechir shows up in the final act as the ritual performer the duo have been looking for, but he does, at least, have some fun and, amazingly enough, some decent lines.

As a singular film, Foreverland follows in the same footsteps as countless other films of this ilk to the point where the familiarity is yawn inducing and, in the worst cases, poorly constructed. The worst part of the entire affair is that it falls into the same category as far, far too many English language Canadian films have: it simply is not very good. There was a time when, as a Montrealer and Québecois, it was amusing to poke some fun at how so many Québec films succeeded where those of the other provinces failed. Inner family rivalry, so to speak. But that was several years ago. At this stage, it is becoming somewhat worrisome that these are the films the Canadian film industry still believes will win over the home grown audience. Stories that have been told before, numerous times at that, and told much better than by the likes of Max McGuire.

-Edgar Chaput

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