A small provincial town is buzzing with excitement: the town's most illustrious son, a world-famous opera singer, is coming home. Meanwhile, Sebastian, a kitchen boy who is as good as ... See full summary »
Ronja Mannov Olesen,
Helene Reingaard Neumann
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DEAR WENDY is a story about the young loner Dick who lives in the poor mining town of Estherslope. When he happens upon a small handgun one day, he finds himself strangely drawn to it, despite his fervent pacifist views. Together with his newfound partner he soon convinces the other young outcasts in the town to join him in a secret club he calls The Dandies. A club based on the principals of pacifism and guns. Despite their firm belief in the most important Dandy rule of all - never draw your weapons - they soon find themselves in a predicament where they realise that rules are made to be broken. Written by
Von Trier is at it again: he's on America's case about hypocrisy, violence and injustice
All of this recent fuss about David Cronenberg's film, "A History of Violence." What rot. You want a good film about violence and the gun culture in America? Check out this little gem from the co-founders of Denmark's Dogme 95 movement: Thomas Vinterberg ("The Celebration"), who directed this film, and Lars von Trier, who wrote the screenplay.
Von Trier drives many American film critics absolutely bonkers because he has the temerity to make films about the "American Character," even though he apparently has never set either of his personal feet on U.S. soil. First came "Dancer in the Dark," set in central Washington State, then "Dogville," set somewhere in the Colorado Rockies. (The actual locations were European, as is the case in Dear Wendy.) These earlier films may have had their problems, but they nonetheless stung with their unflattering depictions of American hypocrisy, greed, violence and injustice.
The worst thing you can say about von Trier's depictions is that they are derivative, hardly novel or unique. Think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Theodore Dreiser, or Ralph Ellison, or Don DeLillo , or David Foster Wallace, or any number of other authors. Pick from almost any generation of American writers and you'll find these same themes sounded. Because like it or not - they are valid. And it should come as no surprise that some intelligent foreigner who reads deeply about America might be capable of writing a credible screenplay about our national foibles.
"Dear Wendy" is set in an unnamed mining town sometime before the present day, probably the 1960s, judging from the musical soundtrack. The town is obviously a false set, not a natural location (odd since this violates of one of Dogme 95's central tenets, to always use natural locations). A miner's son, Dick Dandelion (Jamie Bell, who has carved out a niche, it seems, playing miner's sons, beginning with his splendid performance in Billy Elliot) is a misfit, too fragile and disinterested to spend his life down the mines. Out of sorts, aimless, Dick one day buys a toy gun as a gift for a buddy. But he learns from his fellow misfit friend Stevie (Mark Webber) that this gun is actually a small but real bullet shooting weapon. Stevie, as it happens, has an obsessive passion for guns, gun history and the workings of guns.
These two hit upon a plan: why not start a little club, a cult of losers and outcast young people, the town's stray kids, and bring a little honor, pride and some decent principles of conduct into their lives. No one else is going to give them a break, so it's self-help time. The club will have a secret headquarters for meetings, indoctrination and just hanging out. The unifying themes will be the possession and adulation of firearms juxtaposed with pacifism (is this an amusingly ironic riff on our culture or what ?!) Members will learn to love their guns, to name them, to vivify imagined relationships to their guns. But they will also be honor bound never to use them to commit violent acts against others, not to mention each other.
The group is named The Dandies, presumably after Dick's surname, and grows to include Susan (Alison Pill), Huey (Chris Owen), Freddie (Michael Angarano), and Sebastian (Danso Gordon). An aging black woman, Clarabelle (Novella Nelson), eventually becomes a sort of honorary member, or, more precisely, someone whom The Dandies find need to protect from harm, once the going gets rough.
And the going does get rough. We know that it will only be a matter of time before the idyllic fantasy life shared by this noble little band is somehow shattered by violence. This force arrives in the form of Sheriff Krugsby (Bill Pullman) and a legion of police sharpshooters. It's the gunfight at the Not Very OK Corral. Without getting into further particulars, I will say that the final shootout between The Dandies and Pullman's legion is conducted with an awesome display of police firepower that absolutely resembles the massive use of high tech weaponry that we are accustomed to witnessing when America goes to war, whether abroad or in quelling domestic uprisings (think of Fallujah and Waco).
All the actors I have named deliver good turns. I was especially impressed by Bill Pullman, Jamie Bell and Mark Webber. The sound track features several songs by the 60s British pop/rock band, The Zombies, including their great hits, "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season." More than anything, to me this film feels a lot like a couple of Gus Van Sant's movies. The Dandies adopt period costumes as well as arcane, stylized manners like the street people in "My Own Private Idaho," and the notion of outcast young people bearing weapons, of course, permeates "Elephant," in a similarly lyrical manner.
I think "Dear Wendy" is a powerful film, brimming with poetic truth about us. Yes, it is polemical, one sided, provocative. It may be only half the truth, ignoring our national virtues. And the slant may be familiar. But Vinterberg and von Trier have teamed up to make a decent movie about our seemier side. (In English). My rating: 8/10 (B+). (Seen on 12/11/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.
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