Combustible Celluloid
With: Devin France, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin, Ahmad Cage, Krzysztof Meyn, Romyri Ross, Shay Walker, Tommie Lynn Milazzo, Stephanie Lynn Wilson (narrator)
Written by: Benh Zeitlin, Eliza Zeitlin
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief violent/bloody images
Running Time: 112
Date: 02/28/2020

Wendy (2020)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Doesn't Pan Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Benh Zeitlin, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Director for his debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), delivers his sophomore effort with the disappointing Wendy. A re-working of Peter Pan, it focuses on a delightful, bright-eyed Wendy (Devin France), who lives with her twin brothers above a dingy diner, where her mother slaves her life away. One night, Wendy spots a giggling boy hopping on top of the trains that regularly pass by, and she and her brothers run after him, jumping aboard. The giggler turns out to be Peter (Yashua Mack), a plucky sprite with a ratty purple coat and blonde curls dangling over his dark skin. He takes Wendy and the others to an island, where, thanks to a giant magical fish, they can remain young forever. That is, unless they break the rules. (One of them does, and becomes a Captain Hook-like villain.)

But Wendy never really works, at least not the way Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are does. The main reason is the same one that bothered me about Beasts, which is that Zeitlin insists on ruining his attempted lyricism with awful shaky-cam and an over-reliance on close-ups. It's often difficult or impossible to tell where anything is happening, or to get an idea of the landscape. (There's no relationship between the characters and where they are.) Further, this uneasy combination of stark realism and whimsical fantasy constantly upends the story, taking us out of it, causing us to stop and ask questions. For example: If one kind of magic is real, then why isn't another kind of magic real? Wendy still has some fine and surprising ideas, but they never really cohere into anything satisfying.

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