‘Death’ and ‘choice’ are not words we often find together. It’s such a deep rooted evolutionary fear that we all assume we could never choose. On the surface, Here Awhile is a film about a brother and sister reunited. A story of healing and forgiveness. But it also offers an interesting perspective on what ‘life’ really means. There is plenty of family dramas where they pull together just in time for someone to pass, but director Tim True has found a way to bring this parable into the modern day.
Anna (Anna Camp) returns home after 15 years to reunite with her brother Michael (Steven Strait), but it quickly becomes clear that her return is motivated by more than sisterly love. She reveals that she has been living with terminal cancer for the last year and that she is done searching for a miracle cure. Initially, Michael outright rejects her proposal to end her own life under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act. But the longer she stays with him the more he understands that she wants to live, and die, as she pleases. This is not a film about the tragedy of death, but the value of life.
Throughout much of the film there is a lot of exposition tossed around by the characters, early in the film we receive Anna’s backstory full and uncut in Michael’s kitchen. Similarly, there are a lot of oddly placed flashbacks —while they expand on the relationship between Michael and Anna as children— that do very little for the film itself. It does take a while for the film to get moving, and doesn’t really kick into a rhythm until about halfway through this film. The introduction of Joe Lo Truglio’s character ‘Gary “next door” Evans. We are told by Michael that Gary has Asperger’s, OCD, and Agoraphobia “among other things”, and it’s hard to discern the quality of the treatment of the character. But Joe Lo Trugio gives a thoughtful, and understated performance which is quite impressive considering he is most known for his comedic roles.
Gary’s presence gives the filmmakers something else to focus on besides Anna’s illness. Which is where the film hits a turning point and transforms into something warmer, more hopeful. As the characters bond and draw closer together, so then the film finds a more natural flow. There are some beautiful, quiet moments shared between Anna and her girlfriend Luisa (Kristin Taylor) as they silently appreciate each other. This moment is pitched just the right level between the happiness found in shared love, and the sadness of Anna’s impending departure. It is tender and honest, and demonstrates that love doesn’t have to be about possessiveness. Where usually we are fed the line that we must want every second we have with our loved ones, Here Awhile acknowledges that sometimes it is kinder to want less.
This is a found family drama that may hit just the right spot for some. It doesn’t necessarily feel like the same coherent film throughout, but it does hit the right beats and emotional arcs for the premise. Here Awhile is not a markedly, or forcefully political film. It does not wish to persuade or argue the case for assisted suicide. But quietly suggests that if we have a terminal illness, perhaps we have a right to choose how and when we die.
Here Awhile is available on Digital on June 9th
by Mia Garfield