A fearless performance by Vera Farmiga, and glowing cinematography that explores the subtly shifting body language of strangers who are having sex but avoiding intimacy, partly camouflage the awkward storytelling of Gina Kim’s marital melodrama “Never Forever.”
Throughout the film your gaze is riveted to Ms. Farmiga’s stricken eyes. Blindingly blue, expressing varying shades of panic, desire and refusal to feel, they signal the desperation of a woman who is driven to solve everyone’s problems at the risk of personal catastrophe. You might describe her character, Sophie, as the square version of Irene, the drug addict Ms. Farmiga played in the 2004 movie “Down to the Bone.” That film catapulted her into Martin Scorsese’s “Departed,” in which her talents were conspicuously wasted.
Sophie is the perfectly groomed suburban wife of Andrew (David McInnis), a hard-driving Korean-American lawyer from a devoutly Christian family. Deeply depressed after tests reveal his infertility, Andrew attempts suicide. Sophie responds by visiting a fertility clinic, hoping to be inseminated. While there she observes Jihah (Ha Jung-woo), a young Korean her husband’s age, being turned away from donating sperm because he is not an American citizen.
Sophie impulsively stalks Jihah and confronts him with a proposition: $300 a session for sex, with a $30,000 cash payment if she becomes pregnant. He agrees, and they begin to have secret, joyless meetings in his decrepit tenement apartment. As the camera studies this couple struggling not to bond during their loveless encounters, you feel the pain and frustration of two sensitive people denying the intimacy of their acts.
Inevitably, however, signals are picked up and passed back and forth, information leaks out, and a relationship develops. So it is with most ongoing sexual relationships, commercial or otherwise. Sooner or later business becomes personal. On the recent Sundance Channel reality series “Pleasure for Sale,” the relationships between prostitutes and their regular clients at the Chicken Ranch in Nevada were almost indistinguishable from longtime caring friendships, but for the exchange of money.
Sophie, a beautiful, well-to-do Caucasian woman, is a dream girl by almost anybody’s standards, and Jihah is a scruffy illegal immigrant who scrapes by with jobs at a laundry and a meatpacking company and as a mover; their relationship thus has a volatile power dynamic.
Sophie’s plan is successful. She becomes pregnant and allows Andrew and his family to believe it is a miracle. But it is not a happy ending. Neither Sophie nor Jihah is prepared to abandon a late-blooming passion. Eventually Sophie’s two worlds collide, and the truth comes out.
The way they collide and the consequences are the stuff of the movie’s creaky plot mechanics. After reaching a cul-de-sac, the film tacks on a moony, feel-good coda that makes little sense and should have been eliminated. But while “Never Forever” lingers in the thick of sex, lies and anxiety, it is something to see.
—Stephen Holden (April 11, 2008)