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Movie Review

'Never Forever': Add boiling water and stir

Ha Jung-woo and Vera Farmiga consummate their business arrangement in 'Never Forever.' Ha Jung-woo and Vera Farmiga consummate their business arrangement in "Never Forever."
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / May 23, 2008

In its next life, "Never Forever" will come back as a bowl of fruit, a parasol, or fancy coffee table - any inanimate object denoting dull good taste. The movie has a hard-working Vera Farmiga, her hair in short blond curls, playing Sophie, a ritzy New York housewife (the time is circa now), whose depressive Korean-American husband (David McInnis) can't give her the baby their dying marriage needs. So she hires the illegal immigrant (Ha Jung-woo) she sees at a fertility clinic to impregnate her. His name is Jihah. He's Korean, too - so nine months later maybe nobody will suspect a thing. Bleech. Every time Sophie lays herself under him in his grubby Chinatown den, it's $300. If she hits the jackpot: $30,000. Naturally, the only place for these two to fall is in a big vat of love. The robotic horizontal sex turns into robotic vertical sex. Cue the ecstasy. Cue the tears.

The movie throws in a couple of close calls, like when the husband drops by a dry cleaner's to pick up some clothes. You'll never guess who's in back sweating in the steam. Then it all turns easy with excruciating coincidences. Everything about "Never Forever" can be predicted from the very first frame. The writer and director Gina Kim leaves nothing to chance. Sophie is always, always wearing white. She's the kind of woman who shows up for a sex appointment in chicly complicated blouses with all kinds of buttons and bows. I appreciate the idea that Kim might be going for an apparel situation with 18th-century resonances, but doesn't the character own a T-shirt and jeans? Sophie seems like the immigrant here - straight off the boat from Bloomingdale's.

Having been caught between Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Departed," Farmiga is in familiar territory. And she does a yeoman's job of dignifying the proceedings with her professionalism. There are two or three fine scenes between her and Ha, whose tired face would break your heart under less inane circumstances. (Kim doesn't appear to think much of Korean men. The ones here are passive and pathetic.) But watching Farmiga scream and weep and moan in "Never Forever" saddened me. She's the only person getting a good emotional workout.

Kim mostly goes out of her way to perfume all erotic smut out of her small, independent movie. It's like a Lana Turner vehicle that's too meek to be "Last Tango in Chinatown." And the class commentary that should take hold doesn't, although the movie will make a neat coordinate when the great map of illegal-immigrant movies is drawn, this one being notable for its degrading ingenuity. In another sense, I suppose, in our current "girls, keep out" movie clubhouse, it's refreshing that "Never Forever" is told from a lady's perspective, regardless of the lady's class. But that's a cold comfort when that perspective is the women's-picture equivalent of instant oatmeal: She risked losing everything to find herself! All that's missing from this paperback bubble bath is a picture of Fabio.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/movienation.

Never Forever

Written and directed by: Gina Kim

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Ha Jung-woo, and David McInnis

At Kendall Square

Running time: 95 minutes

In English and Korean with subtitles

Rated: R (sexuality, some language, female nudity, and the threat of domestic violence)

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