Much like that which separates genius from insanity, the line between love and obsession in film is a thin one. In the history of cinema we’ve watched and cheered for characters who travel thousands of miles to be with the ones they can’t be without. But then there’s that pesky line. It is, admittedly, hard to accurately measure how far is too far; but director James Keach’s Waiting For Forever sure does provide a nice guideline.
In the film, Tom Sturridge plays Will, a young man who lost both of his parents in a train accident at a young age. Seemingly unable to mature past the incident, he lives his life following his childhood sweetheart, Emma (Rachel Bilson), from city to city, though he can never summon the nerve to talk to her. After Emma’s father (Richard Jenkins) becomes ill, she returns to her home town where Will finally summons up the courage to approach her.
Reading that plot description you may be thinking to yourself, “That can’t be right. Will sounds more like a stalker than a love interest.” This is precisely what’s wrong with the film. Writer Steve Adams tries to take the edge off the character by giving him a friendly demeanor, a penchant for juggling and an outfit that is 90% flannel pajamas, but this simply makes the character even creepier. You know that you should be afraid of the guy with the pencil-thin mustache, dark sunglasses and non-descript white van with “free candy” etched into the side. Will is so unassuming that you’re constantly waiting for him to snap and drag Emma into a dark basement where he’s made a shrine of her out of plastic bottles and wood glue. Because this never happens, though, it becomes a much less entertaining movie.
Outside of its causal creepiness in the Will-Emma relationship, Waiting For Forever tries to build layers with interactions between other characters, but there simply isn’t enough time devoted to them. The greatest dynamic in the film is between Emma’s ailing father and anguished mother (Blythe Danner), but they’re only given two scenes together, making them act out their drama in fast-forward. Emma’s relationship with her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend (Matthew Davis) is meant to provide backstory for the female lead but, again, nothing much can be revealed in just two scenes. Rather than adding depth, these asides simply create clutter.
To its credit, one thing Waiting it has going for it is the occasional bit of visual flair. The film’s flashback scenes, which show the death of Will’s parents, are shot as though the viewer is looking through a flipbook. This style is particularly effective when used while Will experiences one of his panic attacks that come with the idea of approaching his long-lost love. The same applies to scenes on the open road where Will hitchhikes, the background is often filled with beautiful off-highway scenery. Sadly, most of the film is set in a dull suburb, and moments of visual complexity like these are few and far between.
The saddest thing about Keach’s film is that with just two or three changes to the story, this could have been a successful, well-made horror film. As a romance, however, the audience is perpetually turned off by the fact that the main character is a drifter who watches a woman from a distance and occasionally has side conversations with his dead parents (nope, I am not making that up either). The only rational person in this story, Will’s brother (Scott Mechlowicz), is made out to be a villain and dream-smasher because he thinks his sibling should seek professional help. Waiting For Forever’s biggest issues don’t lie in story or character – it lies in genre.