Crises test our characters. But they reveal them, too.
Josh and Callie Sunbury have been married for twenty-odd years, and they’ve fallen into a routine. He works a hated factory job, while trying to keep his family’s small Idaho farm afloat. She teaches at the local high school. They barely talk except to argue.
And so, finally, Callie decides to climb out of her rut and see a divorce lawyer. She comes home with a sheaf of papers, all ready to shove under Josh’s face. And then he confronts her with his own news.
He’s got cancer – and not more than a few months left.
That’s the dramatic start to Forbearance, and after beginning her film with a bang, director Lana Read is smart enough to let the rest of it play out, quietly and realistically. Josh never abandons his “Where’s my dinner?” sexism. Callie doesn’t suddenly swallow her discontent. Cancer doesn’t change them into different people.
But it does allow them to take a step back, and realize what kind of people they’ve become. And, maybe, regret a few things, and understand why they made their mistakes — even if it is too late to really fix them.
A solid, unflashy drama, the movie is anchored by two smart performances. Juli Tapken is just right as Callie – a little brittle, a little bitter, but still showing sparks of the lively young woman she used to be. And Travis Hancock plays Josh as a big old plow horse, beginning to fail, not quite understanding why, yet still stubbornly pulling his weight.
You keep waiting for a big, tearful reconciliation, a miracle cure, or at least an epiphany; in fact, at times Forbearance resembles those corny, “faith-based” films in which someone puts up with trials and tribulations for two acts, only to find religion in the third.
But there’s no come-to-Jesus moment in this movie, no sudden unbelievable change of heart. Just two flawed adults, stumbling their way through life.
The movie has its own flaws and missteps, too.
A few of the characters – a paternalistic doctor, a hard-bitten lawyer – are overdone and overacted. Some subplots – an old affair, an estranged adult son – never come to much. And the pace is slack, with several scenes going on for just a minute or two more than they need to. (The entire film easily could have been trimmed by 10 minutes.)
But everyone here is working hard, and in the end, they succeed at one of the most difficult tasks of all – telling a simple story, simply.