People that are deeply obsessed with religion can be a bit intense at times, and the Jehovah’s Witness community of Tribeca’s You Can Live Forever is practically a cult. It is enough to make any viewer squeamish about joining up, yet it also avoids making harsh judgments about belief systems. Set in the early 1990s, You Can Live Forever is a queer coming of age drama that aches with the longing of forbidden romance. Writer/director duo Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts weave an important, no doubt personal story from the heart.
Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll) has just moved in with her aunt and uncle to a devout community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As much as she tries not to be awkward and insecure with her assimilation into a new school, Jaime attempts keeping to herself with little success. She befriends a cute kid at school, Nathan (Hasani Freeman), who becomes a de facto smoking and gaming bestie, but it is at church where Jamie’s time here is instantly made more exciting. She catches the eye of a doe-eyed, deeply religious girl named Marike (June Laporte). Jaime meets Marike’s family almost right away, who refer to Jaime as “the new friend.”
Throughout the initial courting stage, the casual flirtation between Jaime and Marike gets hotter and sexier until neither of them can stand the attraction. The editing and sound design soar in these moments—everything else completely fades away, and it is just Jaime and Marike. Marike may believe in Armageddon, but she believes in a sort of paradise too. With both girls having lost parents, the concept of this version of bliss—including the rebirth of the dead and a harmonious, fairytale existence—may be too intoxicating to ignore.
Marike is afraid of commitment and too concerned with her religious state; Jaime is that queer kid having a hard time who one just wants to give a hug. Marike’s dad is disgusted that Jaime isn’t even baptized. Her aunt and uncle don’t even have her back either within the community, doing everything in their power to keep Jaime apart from Marike once she’s suspected of being a bad influence. This extends to supervised visits only when it comes to Marike. How could anyone stand the controlling and reductive ideas they have towards Jaime?
The religious angle of You Can Live Forever frequently made me uncomfortable. I think this was entirely intentional on the part of the filmmakers, attempting to get us into the headspace of Jaime and her outsider status. A scene where Jaime is essentially shamed for wanting to ring in her birthday with a piece of cake and the company of Nathan really rubbed me the wrong way. It is so sad that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to celebrate their birthdays. I am sure in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t much, but it is still a bit bizarre.
In the end, I think the LGBT community will really respond to the film and its beautiful depiction of young queer first love. Jaime and Marike are not one’s picture perfect couple, but they don’t need to be either. All the flaws and curiosities make the friendship and relationship one that is memorable to the very last frame. You Can Live Forever does a great job of getting the audience to actually care, and perhaps form a dream European vacation of their own.
You Can Live Forever screened at 2022’s Tribeca Film Festival.