No Respectability: Our Review of ‘Wendy’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - March 06, 2020
No Respectability: Our Review of ‘Wendy’

Wendy begins with titular character at age 4 (Tommie Lynn Milazzo). She’s sentient enough for her to understand an argument happening in her mother Angela Darling’s (Shay Walker) diner. That argument is between a boy, Thomas (Krzysztof Meyn), and an older customer. The latter tells the former that he’ll end up being a janitor. Custodial work is, after all, one of the only jobs available in this small Louisiana town. Most people, the ones I asked anyway, realize that all work is honorable by the time they reach high school. Which is, sadly, not early enough. Anyway, angry, Thomas goes to the tracks. Wendy watches Thomas ride a train and disappears. A few minutes later, Wendy turns 8 (Devin France). And we’re still in Louisiana.

Audiences know that they’re watching Wendy for a different take on Peter Pan. But co-writer and director Benh Zeitlin’s choice to keep the story in Louisiana longer than it should is baffling. I’m a mere blogger and Zeitlin is an Academy Award nominee. But it’s as if he needs to establish the idea of home without knowing what a montage is. Or he could use this Jungian idea of home. A place Wendy, like everyone else, would want to return to even if home is bad and Neverland is better. That is, after all, what Zeitlin’s better work Beasts was about. It’s as if Wendy wants us to notice that nobody in the Darling family speaks with the same accent.

Eventually, Wendy and her brothers (Gage and Gavin Naquin) leaves Louisiana. They take the train and boat trip to Neverland, where Thomas end up, and meet Peter Pan (Yashua Mack). OK, I get it. People don’t like to bathe, and people who wear the same clothes won’t have those clothes in mint condition. And maybe what I see here says as much about me as it does about Zeitlin. But this rendition of a dirty Peter in tattered clothing makes an offensive depiction of black children. This is obviously not Mack’s fault. The other lost children (Ahmad Cage and Romyri Ross) also fall victim here. It’s obvious that Zeitlin is depicting an outsider’s grossly nostalgic version of the rural South.

Wendy‘s rendition of Neverland, a place where children never grow up, needs a more respectable Peter. Strangely enough or otherwise, Neverland is the best part in Zeitlin’s adaptation. He spares us of J.M. Barrie’s depiction of Indigeous people, thank God. Whoever scouted the locations in Louisiana an Antigua deserve their pay and more. Nature is inherently cinematic, and adding the occasional geyser makes Neverland capably magical. The same goes for creature design. We get a gleaming whale that Peter adopts as his Mother. A creature that, unlike those pesky mermaids, is friendly to Wendy.

Again, Zeitlin adds Wendy into the pile of a dozen Peter Pan adaptations. Here, he takes the focus away from the Peter-Hook conflict, which is a good decision. Making the Wendy-Peter relationship platonic is less so. Cinema can handle puppy love without it being gross. The book, after all, is about Peter, a character so infantile that it brings out the mother instinct in Wendy. It’s an instinct she needs to raise her daughter, who Peter kidnaps in Neverland for ‘training purposes’. Making this movie about Wendy learning about growing up, which is what mo was also a good decision. That is, after all, what most children’s stories are about. But without the performances and the visuals, the execution here is lacking.

Wendy, Benh Zeitlin’s Rufio-less adaptation of Peter Pan, has daily screenings at the Varsity Theatre in Toronto.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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