Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Written and Directed by: David J. Stern
Starring: John Healy, Jenna Sokolowski, Emily Classen, Andy Brownstein and Jonathan Hirsch
Film Review by: Brian Penn
To lose a loved one is a shock from which we never truly recover. Part of us goes with them and can never feel quite the same afterwards. However, the coping mechanism kicks in and we slowly come to terms with the loss. We honour their memory and resolve to live a happy life. But what if the circumstances of death consume someone to the extent they can't go on. What is the impact on those closest to them; and how do they cope, not only with their own grief but somebody else's? Such themes are explored in this thoughtful but relentlessly downbeat film by David J. Stern.
Avi Brickman (John Healy) is a man struggling to cope with the death of his daughter Kaylah five years previously. It has wrecked his marriage to Beth (Jenna Sokolowski) and stalled a promising career as a writer. The final straw seemingly arrives when Avi is fired from his job and Beth pushes for sale of the family home. He returns to a house full of memories, and contemplates suicide as a revolver winks menacingly from the table top. He finds a young woman in the house nursing a sick daughter. Avi is touched by the symbolism of a parent caring for their child. He nevertheless sinks into a deep depression, floating between the conscious and subconscious state. Figures from Avi's past revisit to cajole and berate him. But is he going to make it through the darkness of night?
The film takes care to create fully rounded characters and their motivation is clear from the outset. Scenes of therapy sessions are telling, as are poignant flashbacks to Avi writing stories for Kaylah. Many will recognise the despair of bereavement and problems that magnify at the worst possible time. When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions; and it's difficult not to feel sympathy for Avi's plight. Stern has met the first rule of drama; make the audience care about the character. But the underlying sadness of the piece can be heavy going at times. Of course all sides of life must be confronted, but this is not a comfortable watch for the viewer. The Forgiving remains a well-acted, acutely observed film; but can also take us to dark places in our own lives.