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MOVIES: Wendy - Review

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Wendy is the latest attempt of many at the Peter Pan mythology – The Green Knight director David Lowery is due to have another go at this soon - that has been tried and tested over the years in many different ways. This is the take on the story from Benh Zeitlin, who you might remember from the Oscar nominated (that should have taken home the grand prize) drama Beasts of the Southern Wild. This is very much more of the same – if you didn’t like that you won’t like this – and even if you liked that there’s no guarantee you’ll like this as its largely negative reception critically suggests, but I was completely on its wavelength from the start, it feels like a reappropriation of the Peter Pan mythology for a new audience with all the stylistic flairs of a Terrence Malick film – the aesthetics and visuals are one of the best things about it, there’s an air of Lord of the Flies tribalism between a group of young children here – and the film presents fantasy by way of realism in a way that reminded me of Christian Petzold’s Undine, which updated the Mermaid mythology for the modern age in a haunting but unique approach. If you're a fan of that, chances are - you'll find yourself right at home with what Zeitlin is going for here.

Wendy is a young girl who works – and lives at a diner with her brothers and mother. Yearning for escape and a sense of adventure, she takes her brothers on a haunted train following a boy named Peter, to an island where lost boys go. Everything at first seems wonderful – they find a boy who went missing several years earlier who hasn’t aged – and they make friends fast on the island, a tropical paradise where seemingly nothing can go wrong and adventure is everywhere. But then; things start going wrong. Wendy’s brother is put in danger and a divide between the family looms when tragedy strikes after promises are broken. Wendy finds out a harsh secret to the island – growing old will happen to you eventually, and it will be fast – very much presented in a way not unlike M. Night Shyamalan’s Old in that you age several seconds at once. But instead of being inevitable – Zeitlin presents it as a belief and imagination as being key to remaining young – the second you start doubting that, you’re already lost.

Zeitlin has an eye for story, imagery and purpose. Everything is presented with a soul and a firecracker of life – characters are joyful to spend time with and the remote island that Peter calls his home is visionary – a spectacular treat that really feels brilliant. Wendy’s life before the island feels like something out of a Bruce Springsteen song, a slice-of-life glimpse into the fringes of Americana, a society that she wants to take the freedom of the railway into the unknown to escape from. But we must all grow up eventually.

Dan Rohmer’s score for Luca is one of the best of 2021 so far and he’s done it again here with a sensational track list for Wendy, especially in the final act – there’s also a lot of cheerful optimism in Wendy that it shares with the likes of Bill and Ted Face the Music weirdly enough, to make an outside-the-box comparison that fits both films perfectly even though they’re tonally different, the themes are similar. The emotional beats are appropriately devastating and it’s almost a shame this film has had the buried-and-forgotten treatment that it has had in the UK, not realised simultaneously on streaming it has been given a select run at small Picturehouse cinemas that the majority of the public won’t be able to get to. And this is a really undeserved because Wendy is a proper big screen adventure in almost every sense – capturing a sense of wonder and imagination that absolutely deserves to be seen. One of my favourites of the year so far and will likely score highly on my best of the year list.

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