The Movie Waffler New Release Review - FOREVER YOUNG | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - FOREVER YOUNG

70-year-old woman is given the chance to reverse the aging process thanks to a secret trial drug.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Henk Pretorius

Starring: Diana Quick, Bernard Hill, Stephanie Beacham, Amy Tyger, Mark Jackson, Anna Wolf

According to Wikiquote, forlorn philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer characterises happiness as a phenomenon which is "lent by chance for an uncertain time": that the state of happiness is a delusion, merely an imagined phase which is projected into the future. The morose Teutonic pragmatist suggests that happiness (cf. contentment, safety, etc) is something which we can only ever strive for, a mirage as comfortingly make believe as Santa or heaven. When we are younger we find ourselves agonising that if only I was more popular, better looking, that much richer; aspirations which shrink to a more urgent and desperate craving later when we are older and our simple, tragic wish becomes "If only I was younger."

In Henk Pretorius' (with co-writing from Jennifer Nicole Stang and Greg Blyth) complex symposium on the vicissitudes of aging, Forever Young (no, not that one, and not that one either: the ubiquity of the title perhaps revealing of the phrase's widespread, yearning promise), septuagenarian Robyn (Diana Quick) is offered the opportunity to turn back the clock, to regain her youth via a preliminary formula (we've all imagined such a tincture, or yet will). Might Robyn find contentment in an extended chance at life, or (since I've got Wikiquote open) will she, in another missive from our old pal Schopenhauer, discover that any gains "sacrifice pleasure in order to avoid pain"?

There is much to cherish in this film, chiefly Quick's performance as Robyn. An attractive older woman, Robyn is an author (Forever Young's aging populace consists of photographers, writers, musicians; referring to Dorian Gray analogies of art and proxy immortalities), and we catch up with her at an only so-so successful book reading. Except, in the dwindled signing queue along comes old flame Jim (Julian Glover) with an indecent proposal - the "cure for regret." As they say, old age doesn't come alone, and in an ensuing credits montage we see Robyn stone faced staring into a hand mirror as if willing the rhytids away and doing yoga workouts to stretch the body back into action (the correlation with my own morning routines made me cringe- ☹). Social interactions consist of hanging out at an old people's home with declining peers (one of whom wets themselves, to which quick witted Robyn spills a cup of tea over his crotch to save him the embarrassment: we fall in love with her), and in the absence of all else the other of life's certainties, aside from taxes, looms large.

Is it so bad, though? Married to Bernard Hill's Oscar, and in a loving relationship (one of the aspects of Forever Young which I found refreshing and, I'm going to say it, important, was the notion that older people can enjoy a sexual relationship: a nice palette cleanser after the witless "ugh old people" twattery of stuff like X) with a nice big house, it could be worse. Problem is though that Robyn never had children, and this, perhaps, is the "regret" which the sinister Jim alludes to in Forever Young's opening. Furthermore, perhaps we will soon discover that Robyn's life with Oscar is too predicated upon a cruel timer...

Societal suggestions that women are unfulfilled unless they've had children (google "Jennifer Aniston Children" if you feel like winding yourself up) is odious for lots of reasons, but Pretorious isn't suggesting a general malaise here - this is Robyn's truth. To emphasise this, as Robyn does imbibe the formula (eventually morphing back from Quick to 30ish actor Amy Tyger) Forever Young's scope opens up to take in different paradigms concerning aging and how we cope with it. There is bf Jane (Stephanie Beacham - "Mother!", etc) who resorts to disastrous plastic surgery in order to turn back the clock; Jim (now played by Mark Jackson), whose entire motivation in assembling the potion was to get to put one on Robyn again and requite lost love; along with Jim's grown up indigent daughter Anna (Anna Wolf) who has turned to bad drugs and obligatory sex work in order to survive on the streets...

In the second act, the film settles into a lively chamber drama where old secrets, betrayals and regrets resurface. Perhaps Forever Young posits, especially in its haunting final tableaus, that life is the thing, the here and the now, and that time is an arrow, not a boomerang to spin back and knock us on the head. Viz. casting the objectively hot (and apparently steadfastly opposed to cosmetic surgery irl) Beacham as a woman petrified of losing her looks; we could never, and it seems vain and somewhat greedy of Jane not to accept the grace nature has afforded her. Then again, there is a moment of wonder where priorly post-menstrual Robyn comes on again in a single, ruby rivulet which drips down her leg and brings joy to her face. Maybe, the film suggests, acceptance is always a compromise. I found the moment quite moving, and I realise that I'm using personal pronouns a lot in this review, but the intimate, emotional verisimilitude of Forever Young engenders a subjective response.

At times, the film's ambition and sheer variety of ideas cannot quite sustain itself. For example, although Wolf is good, I found the presentation of Anna's destitution a little cartoony, and a distraction from the stoic poignancy of Robyn and Oscar's negotiations. This feature is an outlier aspect because otherwise, despite its universal themes, Forever Young is resolutely British in its play-like interactions and buttoned-down anxieties; Virginia Woolf's 'Orlando' via Tales of the Unexpected's 'Youth from Vienna'. We end in ambiguity, Forever Young far too respectful and sensitive to impose any easy answers to the difficult ideas that it poses. Stick that in your Schopenhauer.

Forever Young is in UK cinemas from January 26th.