Dear Wendy

Runs Fri., Jan. 6–Thurs., Jan. 12, at Grand Illusion

After this film was screened back in mid-2005, I closed my notebook and thought, "Well, that was certainly the worst picture of the year." The distributor evidently agreed after the early reviews from New York and Los Angeles, and announced that Wendy would not be opening in Seattle. With a sigh of disappointment, I tossed my notes into the recycling bin.

D'oh! But Wendy could already be the worst film of 2006, for reasons that aren't difficult to reconstruct from memory. Working from a screenplay by Lars von Trier, whose Dogtown also sketched a hateful, violent America of his own pure imagination, poor Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) grimly executes the few ideas at hand. A long way from Billy Elliot, trembling orphan Jamie Bell attains the masculine confidence he needs via a vintage pistol which, groan, he names "Wendy." Soon the virginal man-boy forms a kind of onanist cult of fellow gun fetishists who also wed their weapons but never consummate the marriage with actual bloodshed.

And how long do you think the normal hormone-washed American teenager can say no to pulling the trigger? Bell and his gang of ex-weaklings ("the Dandies") dress like Victorian fops and groove to vintage pop by the Zombies; theirs is a peaceful, aesthetes' psychedelia, you see, that the authorities (led by sheriff Bill Pullman) could never understand. But von Trier also has some kind of higher purpose in mind for this satire, and it can end no less badly. Intent on mocking American gun culture, Vinterberg and von Trier consider only their barn-door target, not their choice of satiric weaponry. Their tea-sipping gangbangers are like an acid-fantasy collision between Scooby-Doo and swinging Carnaby Street; their Rocky Mountain hamlet of Estherslope, assembled from a AAA guide of the 1940s, only adds geographic dissonance to the final Peckinpah fantasia. (If you don't believe in the characters, their deaths mean nothing.) Exaggeration can only grow from recognizable roots, as in the American archetypes of A History of Violence. There, at least, the ammunition is the right gauge, while Wendy fires nothing but blanks. (NR)

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