Forbearance is a patient marriage drama that, yeah, slips into melodrama on occasion but never loses sight of the complex nature of long-term commitment.

Juli Tapken stars as Callie Sunbury, a teacher whose marriage to Josh (Travis Hancock) brings her nothing but misery. That wasn’t always the case. The two were sweethearts in youth, the envy of other couples who wished they could attain their level of romance. Then life happened. Difficult jobs, a troubled time raising their son, Jonah (Cedric Gegel), a general winnowing of time dedicated to one another. The two made mistakes, including a night of infidelity followed by profuse apologies that were only partially accepted. It’s so dire that Callie visits Winona (Jennifer Inks), a forceful divorce lawyer, to draw up papers for an official separation. Before she can deliver them to Josh, however, the couple is brought face to face with its greatest crisis: Josh is diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Can they come to terms with themselves and each other before it’s too late?

The film, directed by Lana Read and written by Gegel (himself a cancer survivor), is admirably patient with its story, never losing sight of Josh and Callie as “real” people. They fight with the sort of soft accusations of two people who can never say what they truly want to say within the language of a marriage neither is sure how to end. Josh offers vague assurances and promises Callie knows will never be met; she, on the other hand, tries desperately to hold on to old rituals he couldn’t care less about maintaining. They aren’t over-the-top in their behavior towards one another. Rather, they’re pretty reflective of couples going through a rough patch. It’s sad to watch. It’s hard to watch, and it never feels overdone.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a drama if there weren’t a healthy smattering of platitudes throughout the piece. Words of wisdom like “Love is a verb” and “don’t tell them, show them” drive home the emotional lessons of the film. If the characters weren’t as well-written, and the performances less engaged, Forbearance could’ve slipped into Lifetime-movie territory.

So it’s to Read’s credit that she doesn’t shoot the film that way. The Sunbury family lives in a rustic old house, full of brick and mortar, but it doesn’t feel too clean or empty. None of the sets feel like sets. Like their relationship, the world they inhabit feels suitably lived in. There’s a craftsmanship on display that speaks to the film’s more thoughtful qualities.

While both of the stars are excellent in their roles, the film belongs to Tapken. Her portrayal of Callie is that of a woman with multiple dimensions, whose decision to divorce her husband — and then hang on after his diagnosis — feels driven by character rather than plot. What she wants out of their final days together is cathartic and hard-won. 

There are no easy answers in Forbearance. Words and actions that broke the Sunburys’ marriage aren’t wiped away by Josh’s diagnosis, but it provides a catalyst for real introspection. Although the film could’ve used the cancer plot as a catalyst for a saccharine love story, Gegel and Read opt for something more real and more dramatically fulfilling.