I’ve been on a bit of a blockbuster movie review spectacular recently. X-Men, Green lantern, Transformers, Titanic 2… All have been covered by me on this here movie opinionating webzone. When I started I said I’d make sure to mix up the variety but thanks to the summer movie series I haven’t. In a few days I’ll start reviewing EVERY Harry Potter film in order and I have no idea what mental state I will be in after that. So, before I got Potter mad I thought I’d do a few movies of a more artistic design. Without further ado here’s a relatively unknown Lars Von Trier scribed and Thomas Vinterberg directed movie in the form of Dear Wendy.
Dear Wendy is about a young man named Dick (Jamie Bell) who lives in a quiet West Virginian town which is pretty much just there because of a local mine. Dick is sent out one day to buy a present for a boy he dislikes and chooses to get him what he thinks is a toy gun. After learning that the boy might like the gun he keeps it for himself and decides to carry it around with him wherever he goes. He learns from his coworker Stevie (Mark Webber) that the gun is real. Turns out Stevie is a gun enthusiast and they go to try out shooting their guns. They soon start a club called The Dandies with the basic rule that every member of the club keeps a gun on them but never allows it out. They attach religious ideology to the idea of pacifistic gun owner ship which in turn helps boost the group of misfits and losers confidence. Obviously, things start to go awry.
If you read the blurb on the back of the dvd case you’d think this was gonna be some film about a member of the group getting violent building towards some action packed thriller finale. Well you get the gun battle but it’s not about action and the film isn’t about rules being broken either. The film is about the idea that a gun can make even the most pacifistic man feel like a god. There’s no gradual temptation to use the guns in public building here because it is more about the inevitable moment when they feel they have to draw them. One of the rules they have is that they only use their guns at night in their mine base shooting range not allowing them to see daylight and thus be “Awake”. The guns are all given names to personalise and humanise the potential death bringers they hold. The idea being, for them, that naming the weapons will somehow not make them weapons. The guns even get to vote.
As the film progresses the characters gain confidence and manage to avoid the usual trappings of any similar films as they go. No-one pulls a gun on a bully or tries to rob a bank. The only incident of a gun being pulled in haste is by someone who isn’t a member of The Dandies and it is the event that leads them to their final showdown. Dear Wendy is usually compared to Fight Club which, whilst slightly lazy, is fairly true. It’s core is a story of a secret group that have a near religious set of rules they put in place in order to better their lives. The fact it doesn’t fall into the usual trappings of such films is likely why some reviewers gave negative reviews. Lars Von Trier is always going to be a divisive film maker and while his script isn’t as controversy baiting as usual it is full of well paced storytelling and real gradual slow burning tension. It almost toys with your perception that at some point one of the group would go postal. At least two members are prime suspects to do so. I like that Von Trier consciously avoids predictability. It’s actually really hard to be an unpredictable writer and be good at it.
Performances are quite strong from all the cast with Jamie Bell pulling more than the bulk of the screentime. He narrates the story via a letter he has written to his gun Wendy and is in every single scene in the film. Similarly to The Killer Inside Me you’re getting an insight into the workings of a mans mind as he deals with insecurity, power, confidence, Alison Pill’s breasts and jealousy. Oh and Alison Pill’s breasts. What?
Mark Webber (another Scott Pilgrim cast member along with Pill) gives a much more subtle performance than you’d normally see from him. His character starts off as an extremely quiet young man who gradually finds his groove with the technical aspects of the guns turning into a full blown dandy highwayman of a sharpshooter by the end. Sharon (That’s Alison Pill’s character) is a shy girl that comes out of her shell (And her bra) over the course of the film. She likes to ricochet bullets off walls to hit her targets. A shy but very clever form of shooting which fits the character well. The guns and the characters shooting style is all very well tied into their character and their arc. They become thematic devises to show the way the characters minds are working. It’s the usual sort of symbolism you’ve come to expect from Von Trier, using inanimate objects to lead the audiences reading of the characters.
The film staggers a little when it comes to it’s overall presentation. At times there’s the self consciously cool on screen graphics depicting bullet trajectories and gun features, but they aren’t that frequent so when they do show up they nearly feel out of place. They do tie into Stevie’s technical diagrams though which is a pretty cool way to view them. There’s not a massive use of score in the film instead opting for the music of The Zombies and the odd occasional piece of orchestral music for dramatic beats. It has a very European indie film quality to it and at no point relies on bright colouring or showing camera work to try to hold your attention. Even when The Dandies go out for a parade their clothing colours are muted and it’s during a nighttime setting.
Overall the film is a challenging look at the power a weapon can bring and the discipline needed to own one. It’s not surprising that a film that’s about not firing guns at people didn’t do well in the US. The script is intelligent and the performances are strong enough to carry the weight of the themes. If you’ve liked other Von Trier films you’ll see his mark over the subject and content but direction wise it’s not as intense as his directorial work. It does manage to make you actually care about the characters by the end to the degree that every moment of the final scenes will carry more weight than they would if they were presented like a regular film would have them. It’s rare for a film to make the act of shooting a gun or being shot actually have any weight at all. Watch and recommend it to your friends because this is the sort of film artists make and they should be rewarded for it.