There’s a prolonged sequence in Fernando Meirelles’s City of God that blemishes the otherwise-stellar film. It involves a child having to shoot another child. Sure, one can argue that the scene is expertly handled, the director sustaining an unbearable level of heart-wrenching tension while displaying the roots of systematic violence. One may also pose the following question: how difficult is it to evoke a visceral reaction when you have a child shoot another child?
Emotional manipulation and filmmaking go hand-in-hand – just look at how masterfully and subtly Hitchcock makes us side with the antagonist in Psycho. However, when it’s incredibly obvious that the filmmaker is blatantly tugging at raw heartstrings, it becomes condescending. Stomping on cute puppies, torturing old people, or in the case of Tim True’s cancer drama Here Awhile, watching terminally-ill people gradually fade away, is a borderline-sadistic way to ensure that folks feel the feels.
“They all say farewell to Anna and Michael’s father…”
Here Awhile made me think of Meirelles and Hitchcock – mostly for how it should be done, despite the former maestro’s minor misstep mentioned earlier. It also made me think of a plethora of other cancer dramas, each of which followed roughly the same beats: protagonist finds out they’re sick, they reconcile with family, bid farewell, and tearfully depart our earthly realm. There’s Terms of Endearment, Pieces of April, Love Story, Sweet November, Stepmom, My Sister’s Keeper, and The Fault in Our Stars, with its “you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it Anne Frank sequence,” to name but a few. Here Awhile is like that child sequence from Meirelles’ City, extended into a feature-length film.
So no, watching Anna’s (Anna Camp, in a brave/ tortuous performance) slow and painful deterioration is not likely something you will want to do over and over again. I’m not even sure you want to subject yourself to it once. If you’re healthy – which I genuinely hope you are – it’s a painful reminder of what could happen to you at any point. If you’re terminally ill – God bless you – it just reiterates that at some point, you’ll have to face reality, succumb to the inevitable. Thank you, Mr. True!
The thing is, True is clearly quite a skilled filmmaker, if not quite Fernando or Alfred, yet. The narrative of Here Awhile is well-paced, the director elicits decent performances from the cast, and depicts his what-I-assume-to-be-beloved Oregon beautifully. Considering this is his first time helming a full-length feature, True’s technical prowess is as impressive as his subject matter is lunk-headed. What’s the film saying, apart from “we all should have a choice when choosing the way we die?”
"…it's incredibly obvious that the filmmaker is blatantly tugging at raw heartstrings..."