Film review: 'Wendy' maker has ax to grind

Von Trier fires wide of the mark in his tirade against guns, violence

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

DEAR WENDY — * 1/2 — Jamie Bell, Danso Gordon, Bill Pullman; not rated, probable R (violence, vulgarity, brief nudity).

Someone really needs to find out just what the United States did to Lars von Trier to make him so angry.

The Danish filmmaker definitely has an ax to grind with America, having used "Dogville" as a pulpit from which he could criticize our country's supposed fear of foreign cultures. And now "Dear Wendy," which von Trier wrote but which was directed by his fellow countryman Thomas Vinterberg.

The film has the unmistakable imprint of von Trier, with its heavy-handed tirade, masquerading as satire, assailing what he perceives to be America's obsessions with guns and violence.

The film is narrated by Dick Dandelion (Jamie Bell), who is telling his life story to someone — or something — named Wendy. Dick is the painfully shy, orphaned son of a coal miner. But the withdrawn teen becomes the leader of the Dandies — a gang of teens who have become empowered by possessing handguns.

However, Dick and the others claim to be pacifists, and the town's sheriff, Krugsby (Bill Pullman), believes they can be a good influence on the troubled Sebastian (Danso Gordon). Instead, however, Sebastian gains popularity with the other Dandies and becomes a malignant influence on both Dick's gang and the town. So a confrontation of some sort is inevitable.

Vinterberg is another adherent to von Trier's minimalist "Dogme" filmmaking rules (which eschew special effects and other gimmickry). But the odd mishmash of settings here — parts appear to be West Virginia while others look like the Southwest — are more palatable than the barren-stage setting von Trier employed for "Dogville."

And the young cast is all over the map in terms of performances. Bell ("King Kong") is as low-key as usual, but Gordon's Angry Young Man histrionics are pretty over-the-top.

The most peculiar performance is turned in by Pullman, who's clearly trying to do an imitation of American icon John Wayne. But he's spectacularly bad at it.

"Dear Wendy" is not rated but would probably receive an R for a few strong scenes of violence (mostly shootings), some vulgar sexual references, and some brief female nudity (as well as some nude artwork). Running time: 104 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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