Dear Wendy Movie Review

A fatalistic allegory about the American adoration of guns and black-and-white morality, "Dear Wendy" centers on a band of teenage outcasts in a faded, one-street mining town who form a cult around their almost literal love affairs with vintage firearms.

Pacifists by temperament and timidity, the Dandies, as they call themselves, soon discover confidence and self-possession in carrying their concealed weapons, which they pledge never to brandish in daylight lest they "wake up and pursue their true nature." But as the club members spend their days on a make-shift shooting range (dubbed "The Temple") deep in the bowels of an abandoned mine building, practicing trick shots, obsessively studying famous killers, and watching graphic film of bullet wounds, they slip into fetish and fantasy, naming their guns, and assigning them personalities, emotions, and even imaginary votes in group decisions.

Written by Danish auteur Lars von Trier, with less supercilious socio-political ignorance than his 2003 American-culture morality play "Dogville," the story is overly dependent on the silly narrative contrivance of the Dandies' insecure leader (Jamie Bell from "Billy Elliot") writing love letters to his antique pistol. A few other absurdities rear their heads as well, like the notion of poor mine workers keeping African-American maids -- an impractical byproduct of the writer's never-ending desire to flog the American culture of denial (about race relations, violence, foreign policy or whatever bee is in his bonnet while banging out a particular screenplay).

For the most part, director Thomas Vinterberg ("The Celebration"), one of von Trier's compatriots from his minimalist, experimental movement Dogme95, keeps these elements in check by keeping the focus on the psyches of the Dandies: These are amorphous young minds, easily influenced and shaken by simple jealousy or by the unexpected self-assurance of a new member among them. The cast -- including Michael Angarano ("Almost Famous"), Chris Owen ("American Pie"), Alison Pill ("Pieces of April"), Mark Webber ("Broken Flowers") and newcomer Danso Gordon -- rises to the challenge of making these kids seem both out of the mainstream and yet uniquely all-American.

Vinterberg also gives the town a dangerously desolate, Old West atmosphere that serves to subliminally foreshadow the direction the Dandies are headed when they decide to put their nascent confidence and ideals to practical use -- and he adds an ironic sense of whimsy to what ensues by overlaying on-screen graphics demonstrating with mathematical precision the effects of a well-fired bullet.

But the film's last act almost completely self-destructs, falling into blind, metaphor-baiting machinations. Its turning point relies on overly simplistic irrationality, and soon "Dear Wendy" is awash in trigger-happy redneck cops and tragedy is on the wind. It's a pity, because taken on its own, Vinterberg's methodically calamitous finale could stand up against similar scenes from most good Westerns -- that is until von Trier's chronic fear of subtlety rears up again to beat his point to death one last time before the credits roll.


Comments

Dear Wendy Rating

" Weak "

Rating: Unrated, LIMITED: Friday, September 23, 2005

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