TIFF Report: Dear Wendy Review

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Oh Dear. Dear Wendy has to be the film I've seen at the festival that I'm most embarrassed about. Not that I'm embarrassed to have seen it, having picked up on it on the basis that I haven't seen Jamie Bell in anything other than Billy Elliot. It's probably the fact that I didn't pay any attention to the opening credits other than a short moment where I went 'Hmm… Thomas Vinterberg… His name seems… Somewhat… Familiar' before going back to spacing out again. And so, as the film ended, I couldn't work out why what I watched seemed to be a well directed, interesting film, choked by awful dialogue and poor plotting.

And as the credits rolled I had a bit of an epiphany when I saw 'Screenplay: Lars Von Trier' appear on screen. That's why. Now I'm about to do the journalistic equivalent of shielding my body and face with my arms – I watched this film with no idea Lars Von Trier wrote it and still didn't like it. It's nothing to do with some newfound dislike for the director, or anything. In fact, this film is, in my opinion, loads better than Manderlay.

In retrospect, I think that Vinterberg probably treated Von Trier's script with a reverence that it doesn't really deserve. I'll never deny that Von Trier's work doesn't have good ideas at their basis, but his attempts at satire seem hit and miss to me, and it's simply due to his style, which here, again, makes me wonder, am I a lazy racist, or is Von Trier.


If I said, imagine a woman named Clarabelle, what would you imagine? I basically imagine the legs of the woman who'd chase Tom about in Tom and Jerry yelling 'THOMAS!' and waving a broom. And here she's basically that – a homley African-American maid that cares for Bell's character, Dick. A clever allegory about the way that the White American was served by the African-Americans leaving them unable to function in the modern world without guns? Uh… Maybe, but I just pulled that idea out of my ass there and it stinks.

So Dick gets a gun. Doesn't realise its deadly potential (thinking its a toy), but a friend does. Who also loves guns. Dick names his gun Wendy.

The film begins with Dick writing a letter to Wendy, and more or less if (as I did) you don't know Wendy is a gun before watching the film, you wonder who Wendy is. Don't worry, though, subtlety fans! You'll have realised that it's a gun well before Von Trier foists upon us a line of dialogue that literally goes 'To imagine I am writing a letter to you, Wendy. A GUN.' He might actually repeat it a few times but I was laughing too hard to hear.

And so Dick writes his gun the story of their life together, where Dick starts up 'The Dandies' who are all the freaks and geeks of the weird, tiny, nameless town in which he lives. They love guns, study trajectories and impact velocities, pour their eyes over images of shot to death corpses and play 'Guess whose gun it is'. And dress like Adam Ant got up one morning, found out he was blind, wasn't that bothered and tried to get dressed anyway.

It's round about here I began to wonder about what appeared to be a confusion between styles, that of the director and the screenwriter. While it's clear that Vinterberg has attempted to present Von Trier's screennplay as accurately as possible, this only works where it appears Von Trier's ideas have been refined (the small, nameless town, of which all seems to exist is a Town Square, feels quite wonderfully contrived) and fails completely when the director adds techniques or style that might suit a slightly less hysterically preachy film – the Dandies at one point are displayed in what is meant to be a triumphant montage displaying their costumes and weapons, but which feels terribly out of place.

The difficulty of having a director treat a material with a seriousness it doesnt' require comes to a head at the very core of the 'love story'. With things as ridiculous as Dick cutting off his gun's sights because another man touched her and 'used' her better than him as an as an allegory for female circumcision, being treated with the seriousness and actual female circumcision might (it's mutilation, folks. Don't do it), the satirical aspect feels lost by po-facedness.

The Dandies are pacifist gun lovers, and this is referred to again and again and again. I honestly wonder if in the shooting script Von Trier pencilled in the margins sections with 'Is this too subtle? Should they repeat it again?' or perhaps lots of arrows at certain sections with 'THIS IS FOREBODING OF DOOOOOOOOM!!!' Because, of course, in the end, they have to use their weapons. With tragic results… If you honestly cared about anyone, instead of thinking they're all a bunch of stupid idiots. Though Clarabelle does reappear at the end, looking like James Earl Jones in drag (and who then takes part in the most laugh out loud, awesome section of the film, not that I'm going to spoil it) which is at least something.

Watching this film I just kept wanting to like it. I enjoyed the direction, the cast (All of whom were strong) and the set designs. But as a director Vinterberg was content to work with a plot that was just not tight enough, neither as a bitter satire on American gun culture (in the end, Von Trier's hatred of everyone and everything is his undoing, ending in a film with no clear point) nor as a simple love story between a boy and a gun. Yes. Dick was in love with Wendy. A GUN.

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PaulSeptember 15, 2005 11:06 PM

Yes Matthew,

I've yet to see "Dear Wendy,&" but based on Vintenberg's sophomore effort, "It's All About Love,&" and the road to superiority Von Trier's been travelling on, your review makes perfect sense. I've been tooling around with this idea since I watched Von Trier in "The 5 Obstructions&" and read his recent rantings at Cannes about how all consuming his hatred for the US is. When sitting down to write about America (Dogville, Manderlay, Dear Wendy, etc), Von Trier is either unashamedly malicious toward his characters OR when Von Trier begins to feel compassion and intimacy toward another person (like Jorgen Leth in 5 Obstuctions) he can only seem to express it through cruelty. Like I said, it's a personal theory I'm working on. Any thoughts?

Kurt HalfyardSeptember 18, 2005 12:16 AM

I loved, loved, loved this film...Will post review later. A very different take then Matthew (although I totally see where he is coming from...it is appropriately in line with his take on Manderlay)

logboySeptember 29, 2005 4:58 PM

russian dvd is out, diabolik has it in stock.