You Can Live Forever (2023) Film Review

Superb performances by two young actresses anchor “You Can Live Forever” a beautiful yet devastating debut, set in the 1990s, by Canadian writer/directors Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky. Anwen O’Driscoll is Jamie, comfortable in her queer sexuality, who is sent to live with her aunt Beth (Lian Balaban) and uncle Jean-Francois (Antoine Yared) in a small Jehovah’s Witness community in Quebec, Canada after her father dies and her mother has a breakdown. June Laporte is Marike, also gay, but, as the daughter of the congregation’s leader (Tim Campbell), she has to keep her sexual identity a deep secret, even from her older sister (Deragh Campbell).

You Can Live Forever

There is an immediate attraction as the two girls lock eyes at Jamie’s first congregation meeting. Marike, despite her situation, is the bolder of the two and immediately purses Jamie with invitations to dinner at her family home complete with (at first) innocent sleepovers and long walks through the stunning countryside and a seashore that extends to the horizon. They circle each other both literally and figuratively until they finally kiss and then make out in furtive places like the back seat of a car and in a movie theatre restroom stall.

You Can Live Forever

We know in our hearts that this cannot end well, not so much because of the objection of Marike’s community but because of Marike’s own deep-seated faith. A faith that has become intertwined with her desires and sexuality. When she kisses Jamie for the first time it is the concluding part of a prayer – the film’s title alludes to the JW’s eschatological beliefs – and when she “baptizes” Jamie in a make-believe bathtub ceremony the act is infused with sensuality. There is no separating Marike’s beliefs from her feelings and Laporte is tremendous in portraying this complex character who, with Jamie in her life, appears to have an escape route, but really doesn’t. It’s a heartbreaking performance.

You Can Live Forever

O’Driscoll is also marvelous in the less showy role of Jamie. Always dressed in black and always wearing glasses, she could have been a “Go Fish” era lesbian caricature. There is a little of that, but so much more as well, as she takes us on this sad but beautiful journey.


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