UPDATE: You Can Live Forever screens at Queer Screen’s 30th Mardi Gras Film Festival running in cinemas in Sydney and on demand Australia-wide from February 15th to March 2nd, 2023. Click here for tickets and more information.
Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky’s debut feature, You Can Live Forever, opens up the world of a Jehovah’s Witness community in Canada through the eyes of a queer teenager in the 1990s. Faith, sexuality, judgement, friendship, and family form a combustible mix in this world premiere at the Tribeca Festival.
Sixteen-year-old Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll) loves listening to The Cure, getting high and dressing in androgynous grunge outfits. When she is forced to move in with her aunt and uncle after the death of her father, she finds herself in a community of devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. At a meeting, she sees Marike (June Laporte), the daughter of a church elder, and is instantly smitten. As the two grow closer, the pressures of a watchful church community build. When the church tries to keep them apart, the girls find themselves fighting family and faith to be together.
The specific beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witness faith give unique wrinkles to the familiar tale of queer love blossoming in a conservative environment. The concept of ‘disfellowship’—exile from the community and family where sinners are treated as though they are already dead—adds extra pressures to the fear of coming out. The threat of damnation isn’t just metaphysical, it has real-world consequences for them both.
Mined from her own experiences, Watts imbues the film with warmth and specificity. This isn’t a hatchet job on the church, but a well-observed examination of how important community is to a group of outsiders who see themselves as separate to the world around them, and how suffocating that is for those who are different.
O’Driscoll and Laporte are incredibly endearing as a young couple, slowly edging closer together as they’re figuring themselves out. The film develops the girls’ relationship in small, chaste steps; making mac and cheese, building a house of cards, fingers touching ever so slightly while reading from the Bible. It’s a slow burn, but a beautifully touching and fulfilling one. Jaime’s budding relationship with Marike is placed alongside her interactions with her school friend Nathan (Hasani Freeman) whom she hangs out with, smoking weed, and playing computer games.
The hypocrisy of the church’s view on sexuality comes into focus as the two girls do Field Service, door-to-door evangelism, asking residents “Will all people ever love each other?” as an opening question. Preaching a heaven of mutual love, while refusing to love their queer brethren here on Earth.
A calm, assured debut feature, You Can Live Forever features subtle performances, captured with a sympathetic and confident lens. A beautiful love story, founded in moments of truth, wonderfully told.
By Chad Armstrong
You Can Live Forever world premiered at Tribeca Festival 2022.
Screens at the 40th Anniversary Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival on Saturday, July 23rd at 3:45pm at Directors Guild of America, Theater 2.