out of Five
Running time: 101
The poster for Dear Wendy features its teenage cast brandishing weapons and dressed in western clothes. However, anyone going to Dear Wendy expecting an action-packed horse opera is going to be disappointed, as the film has more in common with Dogville than Dodgeville – it’s written by Lars Von Trier and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, of Festen fame.
Jamie Bell stars as Dick, a teenager in a small, poor mining town somewhere in the American South-East. Dick has a tragic past and is a sworn pacifist but his attention is nonetheless captivated by a small handgun which he nicknames Wendy (the film is narrated by Dick as a love-letter to his gun). 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 unusual twin principles of pacifism and guns.
The other Dandies include gun expert Stevie (Mark Webber), crack-shot Huey (Chris Owen), anxious geek Freddie (Angarano) and the lone girl, Susan (Alison Pill), who has a talent for impressive ricochet shots. The Dandies treat their weapons like lovers, caring for them, never brandishing them and only firing them in a disused mineshaft they call their temple. However, the arrival of an outsider, Sebastian (Danso Gordon) shakes things up and the Dandies are forced into a confrontation with kindly Sheriff Krugsby (Bill Pullman).
This is Von Trier’s unusual, fantasy version of America and the script makes some heavy handed allegorical points about supposedly peace-loving people stock-piling weapons, as well as taking a few well-aimed potshots at American gun culture in general. The photography, courtesy of regular Von Trier collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle, is extremely impressive and there’s also a cool score by the Zombies that adds considerably to the film.
Bell is superb in the lead role and he’s ably supported by the rest of the cast – it’s particularly good to see Bill Pullman on screen again after his nanoseconds of screen time in The Grudge. Alison Pill (from Pieces of April) also stands out as Susan. She has an extremely gratuitous topless scene that is both funny and disturbing because it’s so sexless - the teens only seem to love their guns, not each other, and Susan shows Dick her breasts the way a child shows someone a new toy.
The film isn’t entirely without flaws. For one thing, it’s very slow-moving and often frustrating to watch. However, Vinterberg pulls out the stops for an impressive climax and has one or two genuine surprises up his sleeve (keep your eye on the old lady, in particular).
To sum up, Dear Wendy is a disturbing film in many ways. Whilst it doesn’t always work but it’s worth checking out and is, at any rate, a damn sight better than Vinterberg’s previous American film, It’s All About Love.