“There once was…” “This is a story about…” These are regular refrains you’ll hear in the work of Benh Zeitlin. In 2012, these words were part of the periodic voiceover narration of Beasts of the Southern Wild, the filmmaker’s divisive first film that followed a young girl named Hushpuppy and her ailing father living in “The Bathtub,” a world where breathtaking fantasy and painstaking realism worked hand in hand. After eight years and a lengthy production (this latest film was announced in 2015, and began filming in 2017), Zeitlin returns with Wendy, an immensely disappointing sophomore effort that attempts to strike gold in the same mines through which Beastsdid; but in the end, the treasure’s already been spent.

Time, the shattering of childhood innocence and the process of growing up were all prevalent themes in Beasts of the Southern Wild, so it makes sense that Zeitlin was drawn to the classic story of Peter Pan and Wendy. The duality of these iconic characters—where the former chooses to never grow up and the latter returns home to age and live her life—is a ripe helping of source material to twist and reshape through one’s own imaginative output. And credit needs to be given to a filmmaker who risked it all to present a vision as unique as Wendy, even if the dividends fall short.

In what can be described as Lord of the Flies meets Rugrats Go Wildas directed by Terrence Malick, Wendy follows the story of the eponymous young girl (Devin France), who is kidnapped and whisked away to an island where the concepts of time, aging and emotion have become intertwined in fascinating ways. This iteration’s Peter Pan (Yashua Mack) is a bit of a little shit, treating “never growing up” as the superior choice amongst the living and shunning those around him who yearn to grow old. Nevertheless, some children involuntarily grow old once their innocence is shattered, a rapid process that turns young boys into bearded and graying old men in what seems like a matter of days (though timelines are a bit foggy in the movie’s narrative). The through lines of the plot are filled with tiny pleasures and intimate moments, but it’s all too little to amount to anything in the end.

Additionally, Zeitlin takes the breathtaking opening minutes of Beasts of the Southern Wild and prolongs them across a grueling 112-minute experience. There’s only so many times where the music can begin to grow into sweeping orchestrations while the main character narrates those aforementioned familiar refrains. We don’t need to be told we’re being told a story, Benh. Just tell us a story.

All in all, Zeitlin tries, but Wendy is an example of overstretched, directionless ambition that flounders and dies upon execution. As a meditation on time, it succeeds in the number of times you glance at your watch. As a meditation on aging, one can actually feel the process occurring as the movie slogs along. As a meditation on what once was and what now is, Wendy is almost a meta work that mirrors the trajectory of its filmmaker. For those who adored Beasts, Wendy will serve as a crushing defeat. For those left with little to love about Zeitlin’s debut, you’d be advised—nay, warned—to not even bother.

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild

    [xrr rating=3.25/5]A polished hodgepodge of animism, caricature and poetic allegory, Benh …
  • Blackbird

    Surrounded by death, Blackbird lives. …
  • Revisit: Whip It

    A classic tale of breaking out of one’s shell and testing the boundaries of new passions. …
  • Robin’s Wish

    It's all so heartbreaking, yet Robin's Wish finds a good balance between bringing laughs a…
  • Red Shoes & the Seven Dwarfs

    A cheerful fantasy – nothing more or, thankfully, less. …
  • Residue

    For every lyrical sequence that mixes nostalgia and trauma with ease, there are countless …
  • Oeuvre: Miyazaki: Howl’s Moving Castle

    A cri de coeur against rampant militarism whose intensity ends up diminishing the usual li…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Blackbird

Surrounded by death, Blackbird lives. …