Movie review: 'Dear Wendy'

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1 star (out of four)

The Danish film "The Celebration" is a dazzling 1997 family-secrets drama shot by director Thomas Vinterberg in the fleet-footed, low-tech Dogma 95 manifesto-style Vinterberg established with his fellow Dogmatic, Lars von Trier. See it if you haven't. It's terrific. It's as terrific as "Dear Wendy" is dull.

A fable of dreamy young pacifists whose idea of happiness is a warm gun, "Dear Wendy" was written by Von Trier and shot in provincial locales in Denmark and Germany by director Vinterberg. It belongs to Von Trier's string of dogged, fable-like exposes of the corrosive American character. Unlike his "Dogville," however, which embraced a stagy "Our Town" artificiality, "Dear Wendy" pretends to exist in a realm approximating real life; Von Trier has said he wanted Vinterberg to direct because he could "add these absurdities of realism."

In a drab American mining village called Estherslope, a young man named Dick Dandelion--already you're questioning the realism quotient--writes a farewell love letter to Wendy. Wendy is Dick's antique pistol, and the film unfolds as a long, long flashback explaining how these two met.

In better days, as we hear from Dick's relentlessly flat voiceovers, Dick and his pal, Stevie (Mark Webber), spearheaded a gun club comprising a select group of outcasts. These "dandies" dress in 19th and early 20th Century costumes and meet in an abandoned mine shaft where they discuss firearms and exit wounds and bullet trajectories. They embody a paradox: peace-loving, gun-toting citizens in the thrall of what Dick and Stevie call "this dark, secret passion of ours."

These dead-end kids brandish pistols as substitutes for human contact, sexual or otherwise. ("God, yours is so tiny," Stevie says to Dick regarding his weapon, in a typically subtle line.) Von Trier sticks to his allegorical guns, such as they are, in every scene. The characters are paper-thin. At one point naive Officer Krugsby (Bill Pullman, looking uncomfortable, as if he'd been kidnapped and transported to rural Denmark to film some sort of lame allegory) tells Dick he's the type of kid who made America great. Such pronouncements don't even work as Irony 101, let alone effective drama.

It's a long slog, not because what the film says is provocative but because the technique is as slack as the writing. You may not believe in America's debauched gun laws any more than the filmmakers do. But one of the so-called "10 Commandments" affixed to the Dogma manifesto excludes the notion of "superficial action," including gunfights. It's easy to understand why Von Trier and Vinterberg bent the rules for "Dear Wendy." If only they'd established a commandment prohibiting superficial treatises regarding the firearm fetish.

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"Dear Wendy"

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg; screenplay by Lars von Trier; cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle; production design by Karl Juliusson; music by Benjamin Wallfisch; edited by Mikkel E.G. Nielsen; produced by Sisse Graum Jorgensen. A Wellspring Media release; opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. Running time: 1:45. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for violence, sexuality and language).

Dick - Jamie Bell

Krugsby - Bill Pullman

Sebastian - Danso Gordon

Stevie - Mark Webber

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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