PARK CITY, UTAH -- Written by Lars Von Trier and directed by Thomas Vinterberg
, Dear Wendy
is not a conventional romance -- it's a love story about a gun. This is what happens when a bunch of alienated teenagers in a poor southwest mining town are exposed to weapons of individual destruction. Part parable, part wild west shoot-out, yet totally original, "Dear Wendy" is a powerful indictment of American gun culture that is sure to draw controversy and heated discussion wherever it plays -- just as the filmmakers must have intended.
The leader of the pack is a young man named Dick (Jamie Bell) who is saved from a life in the mines by his black nanny Clarabelle (Novella Nelson
). She says he is too sensitive and weak for the mines and will one day do something great to save the world one day. He gets a job at a super market and wanders aimlessly through life until he meets and falls in love with a small, sleek and stylish handgun he names Wendy, although he professes to be a devout pacifist.
Dick is befriended by his sullen co-worker Stevie (Mark Webber), who happens to know everything about guns, and the two boys form an instant bond over their fascination with weaponry. Stevie's a pacifist too.
After a while they decide to spread their wealth and recruit a handful of the town's young misfits--a cripple and his brother, Huey (Chris Owen) and Freddie (Michael Angarano
), Susan (Alison Pill
), a pretty girl who was unfortunate enough to be the one in high school without breasts, and later, Dicks's nemesis, the street smart black kid Sebastian (Danso Gordon
What draws them together is that they have absolutely nothing in life to look forward to--until they get their guns. Hiding out in a deserted mine shaft, they create a home for themselves where they practice, shoot and create an elaborate secret society dubbed The Dandies.
Dressing in costumes ranging from a union soldier's coat to a revolutionary war stove pipe hat and a coonskin cap, they look like a ragtag survey of American history. Brilliantly accompanying them throughout the film as they swirl their guns around, is the music of the Zombies, singing stuff like "let me tell you about the way she acted, the color of her hair..."
In a conventional American film, Dick would fall for Susan and ride off into the sunset, but here he only has eyes for Wendy. Sex is not part of the equation. Any erotic feelings are directed towards their weapons, and, in fact, one of the rituals they study is a technique used by German soldiers in World War II in which they bind their genitals to the point of excruciating pain so that they will fight more fiercely.
Although it is not their intention, exposed to enormous firepower, which they have no trouble acquiring, it is inevitable that they will one day use it. As police chief Krugsby (Bill Pullman
) says, they are "the kind of boys this country is built on." And like many innocent young men in this country introduced to the mystique of guns, they will eventually be led to slaughter.
For a time these kids feel empowered by the guns and can look people in the eye. Bell's perpetual sneer and hawk like gaze make it hard to take your eyes off him. Equally compelling is Pullman, who gives a complex performance as a sincere man who sends out mixed messages only because he doesn't have all the answers. All the kids seem to have been melded into their roles with Webber and Pill bringing a deep understanding to the tortures of growing up in an absurd world.
The filmmakers appropriate bit and pieces of American culture and film history, but these are Europeans commenting on our society. The iconic town of Etherscope with its sad center know as Electric Square was modeled, fittingly, after Pocahontus, West Virginia and magnificently reconstructed in Denmark by Karl Juliusson
and Jette Lehmann.
Strutting and fretting across this stage, the kids are alternately fascinating and far fetched. Vinterberg's storytelling is straight forward and unadorned, imbuing the stylized and timeless setting with a believability that, for the most part, allows one to suspend disbelief, although the action is at times frustratingly slow. With The Battle Hymn of the Republic playing softly in the background, Vinterberg is not being subtle. But the cumulative power watching these kids self-destruct for nothing is heartbreaking and angering. Any impatience with the film is dispelled by the power of the ending, a ballet of violence right out of Peckinpah. This is Von Trier and Vinterberg's vision of America today and it's sobering.
Lucky Punch I/S/A Nimbus/Zentropa Production
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writer: Lars Von Trier
Producer: Sisse Graum Jorgensen
Executive producers: Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Bo Ehrhardt
, Birgitte Hald
Director of photography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Production designer: Karl Juliusson
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch
Co-producer: Marie Cecile Gade
Costume designer: Annie Perier
Editor: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen
Cast: Jamie Bell, Bill Pullman
, Michael Angarano
, Danso Gordon
, Novella Nelson
, Chris Owen, Alison Pill
, Mark Webber;
MPAA rating: unrated
Running time -- 100 minutes.