The character of Will Donner, arguably the protagonist of the very strange romantic dramedy Waiting for Forever, is supposed to be charming and carefree. We know this because his whimsy is as subtle as a vuvuzela: A traveling street performer who could be the love child of Benny and Joon, Will hitchhikes; dresses exclusively in pajamas, red Converse sneakers and a bowler hat (ostensibly for maximum comfort, though as we later learn, they’re all he owns); and speaks in a slow, dreamy voice prone to bubbling over in childlike excitement. We first meet our offbeat hero as he hitches a ride to Pennsylvania with an older black couple, regaling them with stories of his “girlfriend,” Emma, his childhood best friend and destined soul mate, whom he’s dead-set on marrying.
And that’s where it gets creepy.
While Will (Tom Sturridge) and Emma (Rachel Bilson) were indeed grade-school buddies, it soon becomes clear, as Will reunites with his older brother, Jim (Scott Mechlowicz), and friends Joe and Dolores (Nelson Franklin and Nikki Blonsky), that the two are not dating, and in fact have not spoken or seen each other in more than a dozen years, when Will and Jim’s parents were killed in a train wreck and the boys had to move away. Emma is back in town to help care for her sick father (Richard Jenkins), and Will has followed her there. In fact, he follows her everywhere–a fact the makers of this film seem to find heartwarming. He’s smitten! It’s true love! No, it’s obsessive stalking paired with what looks to be a fairly severe personality disorder. Did I also mention that he’s a mime? And habitually speaks out loud to his dead parents? In any place other than Hollywood, this love story would be grounds for a restraining order.
But Emma, who is dealing with a faltering acting career and a recent breakup in addition to her father’s imminent death, needs a little break from reality, which Will, stuck as he is in a disturbing Peter Pan stage of mental and emotional development, is tailor-made to provide. After finally summoning the nerve to approach her (by jumping out of her childhood tree house, naturally), Will convinces Emma to spend the afternoon with him. He takes her to the site of an old soda shop they used to spend time in–now a dive bar–and insists upon sitting on what he calls “their stools,” dislodging customers even though there are other empty seats available. Red flag No. 1. Then, they decamp to a playground, where he recalls in frightening detail mundane moments they shared as children. Red flag No. 2. By the time Emma realizes that something might be wrong with her playful, pajama-clad paramour, there are so many red flags she might as well be at a communist rally.
I’m not sure what went wrong with this picture. It could just be bad judgment on the part of screenwriter Steve Adams, who for all we know finds stalking adorable, or who thought that perhaps if Will had a sad enough back story, his disturbing obsession could be forgiven (he is clearly intended to be sweet and harmless, but something gets lost in translation). I don’t think the blame falls on Mr. Sturridge, who, with his squinty eyes, chiseled cheekbones and pillowy mouth, is about as cute as one can get when playing what amounts to a deranged clown. He does have some affectations–especially his soft, nervous movements (which are meant to be Chaplin-esque but read as mildly autistic) and lusty, blank stares–that contribute to Will’s naïve menace, but in the body of another actor, who knows? Will might have been even scarier.
There are, thankfully, a few side plots that give Mr. Sturridge’s endless antics a rest. Blythe Danner nearly steals the movie (I wish) as Emma’s mother, upended by worry and premature grief, and Richard Jenkins is reliably subtle and superb as the gruff, ailing patriarch. We’re also treated to a brief, ridiculous twist in which Emma’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron (Matthew Davis), arrives in town and manages to get Will arrested for murder. Sadly, he doesn’t stay behind bars for long, and once he’s released, Emma forgives him. I suppose we can’t blame her–he may be a stalker, but at least he hasn’t killed anyone, which is more than you can say for a lot of the people on eHarmony. Or so I’ve heard.
Waiting For Forever
Running time 94 minutes
Written by Steve Adams
Directed by James Keach
Starring Rachel Blison, Tom Sturridge, Blythe Danner, Richard Jenkins