Writer-director Jacob Ward’s Forever & Always carries the hallmarks of the love stories we have all witnessed, or better still, been a part of. Sweet, soulful, and simple in its narrative, he presents an uncomplicated take on one such story that brings James & Kayla onto our screens.
High school nostalgia is hard to let go of. The memory of the former sweetheart even harder. When even the mere thought of those times brings a smile to your face, why bother pretending to want to outgrow it? For those of us who have forgotten ours, Ward’s Forever & Always comes as a bittersweet reminder. And, for those of us who haven’t, his film is a mirror we stare into. A film that can easily be dogeared for its simplistic take and non-fuss screenplay; this one is for the keeps.
We are invited into the adolescent world of two high schoolers; essentially late teenagers, to witness their first brush with the complications and weight that comes with embracing adulthood. At the cusp of their college years, the two lovers now having to reassess their situation so as to not compromise their promising careers, remind us of how naïve our perspectives can be of life and its many givings. Cinematographer Evers Pund absorbs us into Forever & Always, with the extra closeups and the lingering shots, all languidly placed into a neat, linear plotline of just 8:50-minute. It is largely due to his lensing and the cast, that the film sustains its hold. Considering how the story discounts the modern technological options laid out at everyone’s feet for communication, it’s a huge risk that Ward experiments with. Add to that, the film primarily presents the narrative from the perspective of its male protagonist, leaving the heartbreak of the woman to the margin. But, all of these are easily forgiven, for, in Ward’s Forever & Always, nothing matters more than James (also played by Jacob Ward) and Kayla (Francesca Xuereb).
The very opening shot establishes not only the love and deep bond the two share, but also their character dynamics. One of them is openly vulnerable, the other cautious. Their fingers intertwining and conversations dropping low into whispers, it is the intimacy within these sepia-toned frames that makes for it a soulful display and not the usual high school romance we are accustomed to seeing. What’s even more noticeable about the film is the writing that sticks with everyday conversations and statements to format a believable dialogue exchange. These aren’t characters from novels that sprout the most perfect, poetic lines, but regular people expressing in their own, haltingly faulty way, the myriads of ways love has them wrapped in one cocoon.
Xuereb as Kayla is spellbinding. She effortlessly makes Kayla a likable person, even if a tad bit predictable in her actions. Which is why the climax hits particularly hard—the unexpectedness of her generosity, of her vulnerability, openly exhibited. And, Ward as Jacob picks the pulse of the lover accurately. There are no inhibitions here; whether it is his disappointment, incredulousness, or openness, Ward bares it all. Maleah Goldberg, who plays Dani brings in the freshness, along with the subtle discomforting vibrancy to the plot and the character arcs for the rest of the cast. It is particularly appreciable how Ward manages to steer clear of the tropes and stereotypes—there are no villains here, no scope for blame-game if any. It is just one of the tragedies of life, if one must call it, that time can invariably wedge between relations more than distances can.
Despite no music, the film carries a buoyancy to it, and editor Douglas Sullivan adds to it with his right incisions, which helps maintain the flow of the storyline. While effort has been made to bring together a subject that is seldom explored despite it being an overexposed theme, a few additions such as a background score, nuanced colour grading, and better lighting wouldn’t have hurt the film’s mileage. Having said that, with all its constraints, it is a remarkable achievement.
Ward and Xuereb as James and Kayla bring into our lives a memory, so untouched despite the ebb of time, that we instantly feel connected to them. And, perhaps, even long for them. Such is the powerful voice of this film, that we hope writer-director Ward considers a sequel of where the lovers find themselves in the sunset years of their lives.
Looking forward to more of James and Kayla…
Watch Forever & Always Short Film
Forever & Always: A Heartfelt Story Straight From The High Schools