'Waiting for Forever': Worst of 2011, Already?
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
It would be one thing if "Waiting for Forever" were merely cliché. When we first meet Tom Sturridge's Will, he's hitchhiking in pajamas, bowler hat and jeans through the American West, caging a ride in the back of a pickup truck and then standing up, arms spread wide, shouting silently as the music plays so as to best demonstrate how he's more alive than we are. It's a phony and overly familiar moment, to be sure, but it's bold, sensible and subtle compared to the simplistic strained strangeness to come. Will is heading back to the town he grew up in because his childhood friend and lifelong love Emma (Rachel Bilson) is going to be there tending to her ill father (Richard Jenkins) and supporting her mother (Blythe Danner). Will has loved Emma since they were kids but has never told her; now, he's going to. Even if it takes him a whole film.
Related: See photos of Rachel Bilson
And while all of this sounds harmlessly ham-fisted, you need to know just how worse things get. Will has been following Emma cross-country -- "I'm not following you; I just go where you are," is how he puts it. Emma's also being followed from L.A. by her hot-headed boyfriend Aaron (Matthew Davis), angry at Emma for cheating on him. So Bilson wobbles like a wide-eyed weak-willed Weeble between two different unsuitable men, pausing to look in on her mom and dad when she's not teetering and tottering. Will is not just a wacky road-travelin' scamp who supports himself by juggling; he lost his mom and dad when young in a train accident. Will still thinks about his mom and dad, and remembers how, right after it happened, Emma said they'll always be with him. Regrettably, director James Keach and screenwriter Steve Adams have Will demonstrate this by turning his head to the left and talking out loud to his dead parents.
"Waiting for Forever" isn't just bad; it's fascinatingly bad. Sturridge's every line of dialogue is delivered in a hesitant, hushed, heartfelt tone with his eyes half-closed and his mouth half-open. This does not make Will look like a sensitive dreamer; it makes him look like he's constantly on the verge of a sneeze, a stroke, or an orgasm.
Full of characters that do not sound, or act, like people, the film has absolutely no cinematic values or aspirations whatsoever. Putting aside the question of what, exactly, made this familiar but oddly creepy tale of a plucky dreamer and the underwritten girl of his dreams one that had to be told, the better question is who felt it had to be told on the big screen. Keach's echoingly empty bag of directorial tricks (sepia-tone flashbacks, stutter-cut fast-forwarding montages) are the stuff of TV movies and music videos, and the claustrophobia of his cramped compositions is matched only by his inability to discern what an attractively lit scene looks like.
Even Danner and Jenkins -- two fine actors -- are squandered and shoved aside to make way for the moping morass of the plot. The dying irritated man who loves too much, the smother-mother who clings to normalcy in the face of shattering grief -- these aren't characters; they're Lego parts, designed to be shoved into spaces of the story so everything goes "click" just like the instructions on how to write a conventional tear-jerking romance say they should. Or, put another way, let me convey to you precisely how bad "Waiting for Nowhere" is: I found myself longing for the subtlety, invention and real human feelings displayed in the work of Nicholas Sparks.
With its ostensibly feel-good finale, where Emma finds Will and comes around to understanding his creepy, decades-long pursuit was a demonstration of pure and eternal love, "Waiting for Forever" goes from merely bad to truly dangerous. In a weird coincidence, Emma's an actress, and that along with the film's validation of Will's long-held feelings made me imagine John Hinckley Jr. giving "Waiting for Forever" two thumbs -- a copy of "Catcher in the Rye" and a snub-nosed .38 -- way, way up.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.