Two teenage girls in love realize religion is a formidable force

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

You Can Live Forever
3.5 out of 5

It’s tremendously unsettling that in the year 2023, the LGBTQ+ community is again under siege — this time because of craven politicians aligning themselves with the religious right and parroting their bigoted talking points.

Before you say, “hey film critic, stay in your lane”, let me introduce you to You Can Live Forever, a superb Canadian coming-of-age drama that stubbornly refuses to fall in line.

Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll, Burden of Truth) is a gay teen who relocates to a small town in Quebec for obscure family reasons. The girl is welcomed by her Aunt Beth (Liane Balaban) and her husband, both devout members of the local Jehovah’s Witness congregation. Jaime has limited interest in joining their religious pursuits, until she notices the pastor’s daughter, Marike (June Laporte).

The teenagers become fast friends, and soon something more. In a traditional coming-of-age movie, Jaime would be the one to help her love interest discover her sexuality. But in You Can Live Forever, Marike is very much aware of what she wants. The sticky detail is in the film’s title: both Marike and Aunt Beth forgo their dreams in hope the “imminent” arrival of God’s kingdom will reward them for their sacrifice.

Watching this movie, I often found myself expecting operatic drama. Every time, the film responded by delivering low-key conflict instead. In You Can Live Forever, the villains operate in the background, and do so effectively. The writer/director team of Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts avoid caricaturing religion and opt to focus on the most seductive aspects of it — a sense of community and belonging that someone as rudderless as Jaime may feel attracted to.

Because the film is gunning for realism, a conventional ending isn’t in the cards. But it’s satisfactory all the same. Without spoiling it, it speaks of listening to yourself before buying into anyone else’s creed. It’s a choice that’s at the very root of the hatred religious extremists have for the LGBTQ+ community. ■