Forbearance is a typical weepie plot — a couple grappling with a cancer diagnosis — with a different spin on it because the main couple is on the verge of divorce. How can they reconcile the news of this sickness and the marital tension they are experiencing? These two devastating crises test the lead characters, Josh and Callie Sunbury, as they must confront painful truths. All of this makes for an incredibly intense drama.
The Sunbury’s have been married for twenty-something years but they are constantly arguing with one another when he’s not working at the factory or she is teaching at the local high school. There’s something about the actors Juli Tapken and Travis Hancock that seems mismatched—he is all brute force with a tinge of misogyny and she is more brittle and independent. But perhaps that’s the point: they were doomed from the start. The day Callie comes home with divorce papers is the day she learns that he has cancer and only a few months to live.
The film is a grounded depiction of two flawed adults stumbling through some life-changing news. They have no idea what is the right or wrong way to act or how to deal with the regret of past mistakes that may never be fixed. What makes Forbearance such a unique drama centered on cancer is that there is no uplifting reconciliation or cloying epiphany.
Forbearance is not without its missteps. The dark lighting and harsh brick settings don’t make it particularly pleasant to look at, with the exception of some beautiful farmland scenery from cinematographer Tyler Sanso. There are several side characters and subplots that are overexaggerated, such as an old affair and an estranged adult son who cannot understand why his father does not choose treatment; though well-acted by the filmmaker Cedric Gegel, it seems unnecessary. The somewhat sluggish pacing makes these detours feel a bit frustrating as well.
Nevertheless, Gegel proves himself to be a fine actor and his directing/screenwriting efforts are commendable. He crafts an authentic drama that draws from his own experience as a cancer survivor. Forbearance is a brave work that bravely traverses all of the fears, sadness, and uncertainties surrounding the illness and its effect on family — those you have solid or strained relationships with. It is a very raw film that deals with big emotions with admirable sincerity.