Like most of David Puttnam's "First Love" series, "Forever Young" (Beverly Center Cineplex), centers on curious relationships. Here, we're dealing with three kinds of passion: a fatherless boy's love for his parish priest, the priest's love for '50s rock 'n' roll, and his old friend's fixation on the blasted dreams they both lost together, as young rockers years ago.
It's an unusual potpourri, and not altogether successful--but, in many ways, it's the most ambitious of the "First Love" films. It reaches for more, and it deals with emotions not easily defined, not easily caught.
The script is by Ray Connolly, an ex-rock journalist and scenarist of two earlier Puttnam films: the John Lennon-inspired "Stardust" and "That'll Be the Day." Here, Connolly shows us two rock enthusiasts more purist than himself: Michael (Nicholas Gecks), and his old mate, Jimmy (James Aubrey), whose interest in rock stops at 1962--before the British invasion. Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis, the Everly Brothers were their idols. Especially the Everly Brothers--whose high, sweet, keening harmonies they duplicated as teen-agers.
Now, years later, Jimmy is a schoolteacher--scruffy, cynical, bitter--and Michael, still radiant and idealistic, is a priest. The catalyst that brings them together again is one of Father Michael's weekly concerts--where he spins golden oldies and plays guitar at a drab little auditorium. And the increasingly disturbed witness to their reunion is Paul (Liam Holt), the priest's adorer.
To Paul, Jimmy is an interloper--stealing Michael's affections, and then, in unthinkable defilement, romancing Paul's mother, Mary (Karen Archer). "Forever Young" seethes with frustration and buried anguish: the deepest anguish of all coming because the characters can't remain young, because time passes, hope dies, the mundane usually triumphs, idealism and dreams twist into grotesque parodies.
The title refers not to Bob Dylan's great song, but to an original--set to an old English folk tune, with lyrics by Connolly--a song in the mode of Everly hits like "Let It Be Me" or "Dream." When MicHael and Jimmy perform it for the parish audience in the film's most moving scene, we see what it once meant to them: the new irony of the words, and why the songs of our youth affect us so deeply.
The main problem with "Forever Young" lies in its focus, the boy. Perhaps he suffers from the weakness of most probable author-surrogate characters: He doesn't inspire the unflagging sympathy his creator assumes he'll get. Paul can seem insufferable in his mooning and brooding; and when he runs away, because he's surprised his mother in lovemaking, it's difficult to feel much sympathy.
But whatever your qualms, "Forever Young" (Times-rated: Mature) has some remarkable passages. Director David Drury has a dark, massy style of great sobriety; he builds up the repressed atmosphere with weight and assurance.
This movie has a good sense for stifling provincialism. And if its dark secrets sometimes seem borrowed from William Inge, at least it tries for them--digging deeper, singing more fiercely. The cast, as in most of "First Love," is fine; most interesting of all is the whole anachronistic mixture of sex, love, church celibacy and Chuck Berry. If souls and dreams die, you wonder, can rock 'n' roll, as well?