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Wendy film review

Updated: Aug 9, 2021


Directed by: #BenhZeitlin

Film Review by: Isabelle Ryan


Wendy (2020) Film Review

Wendy movie poster
Wendy movie poster

Nearly a decade after the Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin returns with a reimagining of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Here, Wendy Darling (Devin France) lives with her brothers (Gage and Gavin Naquin) and their mother (Shay Walker) above a restaurant near the train tracks. One night, the Darling children catch a glimpse of a mysterious boy (Yashua Mack) and decide to follow him through their bedroom window to a fantastical island where children never grow up. At first delighted with the place, they soon discover that life without adults or responsibilities is an impossible dream.

Much of Wendy’s success is down to its child actors. Zeitlin again chooses a young girl to lead his film, and Devin France does a great job in the title role. She is curious and brave, mature and pragmatic. Gage and Gavin Naquin play her twin brothers, one cautious, the other hot-headed, but fiercely loyal to each other. Of course, there is also the film’s take on Peter himself: Yashua Mack is mischievous and anarchic, a charismatic leader with a dark streak. The performances are uniformly admirable, but the actors are often let down by their dialogue. As in Beasts, the protagonist narrates the film. Wendy is traditionally a storyteller, so this makes sense, but this part of her role is not thoroughly explored in the narrative. She and others are often landed with clunky dialogue lacking in subtlety, barely saved by the actors’ delivery

On the technical side of things, the film is splendid. The score is hugely reminiscent of Beasts’, which Zeitlin also composed. Additionally, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography captures the majesty and mystery of this Neverland: the lush rainforest where Peter and his Lost Boys roam; the enigmatic underwater home of Mother, the giant fish who protects them; and the bleak shots of desolate, ashy plains, the home for the Lost Boys who left. One jarring technical flaw is the ADR. The film was shot in Montserrat, and judging by how much of the dialogue seems to be dubbed over, the background noise was perhaps too much to compete with. This is a common technique, and it wouldn’t be a problem if the actors’ words more closely matched their mouth movements.

The Zeitlins’ script includes some of their concern for the planet. This version of Neverland has beaches awash in detritus, and one of the film’s conflicts sees the old Lost Boys hunting Mother, an innocent creature who did nothing except protect them. Beasts’ political commentary was polarising, with author and activist bell hooks criticising its “crude pornography of violence” and declaring the protagonist a “racist and sexist” stereotype. The issues persist here, especially in Wendy’s role as ‘mother’ to Peter. In one stirring scene, she challenges him, stating in no uncertain terms that this is not how their relationship works. However, it is later made clear that she (and by extension the script) thinks the most important part of growing up is having children. This role is given to her without question and without choice. The film’s climax revolves around the importance of being a mother, but it is not all a person can be. This is one instance where the original story should have been more severely interrogated.

Wendy’s meditation on growing up and growing old is ultimately affecting. Towards the end, a clever montage shows us what Peter may never have. He is a lonely little boy, left behind by those who wished to grow up and trapped by his own stubbornness. Despite the film’s title, this is Peter’s story, and it remains a tragic tale.

WENDY will be released in UK and Irish cinemas on 13 August



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