Tuesday, January 10, 2006

DEAR WENDY - Billy Elliot goes Gangsta!

DEAR WENDY tells the tale of a bunch of losers in mid-town America. The kids club together and found The Dandies - a club for pacifists who dress well, read poetry..... They also meet in darkened mines, learn everything they can about guns and become crack-shot shooters. Crucially, though, they never fire a gun in "open warfare". The key is to allow the fascination with guns and mastery of them to be empowering rather destructive. And empowered they are. The kids find friendship, community, self-respect - they start playing music again (largely, bizarrely, 60s hits by The Zombies). Their guns become their girlfriends, named, beloved. The kids get laid, get tits, get top hats. Yes, yes. Into this off-whack self-help group steps a black kid called Sebastian. He makes a move on Dickie's gun, his girl and his gang. Is it any surprise that in a movie populated by armed-up, sexually frustrated, jealous teens, it all ends in a gun-fight and tears before bedtime?

This being a Lars von Trier-scripted film, the America of DEAR WENDY is somewhat off whack. Poor white miners can afford to hire black maids and kids drink tea. Perhaps even more bizarre than drinking tea, these US kids sometimes affect a "Brideshead stutter" - mimicking fictional toff and cult figure, Antony Blanche! I mean, seriously, how many mid-western teens have even heard of a novel about a bunch of Catholic aristo repressed homosexuals? Other Trier-isms include the fact that the destructive violence is introduced by a young black kid. And on one level, much as he denies it in interviews, I am sure he would love for this movie to be read as a searing indictment of America's gun culture as well as Bush's foreign policy. A bunch of insecure people armed up and firing first out of fear and misunderstanding. Iraq, anyone?!

But this movie is better than the recent von Trier agitprop. This is because DEAR WENDY is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, one of my favourite directors. He came to notice with the haunting drama Festen, which won, among other things, the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. Handed a dry polemic fuelled by conceptual hocus-pocus, Vinterberg breathed life into the script. The sets are great and shot with intimacy on hi-def video. The kids all invest the film with energy and goofiness. Don't get me wrong - DEAR WENDY is not a dramatic tour-de-force - but it's a perfectly enjoyable coming-of-age story and not as pretentious as the reviews suggest

Best of all, the message of the film, if there is one, is rather the opposite to what the US critics would have you believe. I find the film to be an indictment of liberals who deceive themselves that they are pacifists and immune to the allure of guns, while being as vulernable to gun culture as paid-up members of the NRA. The directer himself was raised in a honest-to-goodness hippie commune in Denmark, where "gun" was a dirty word, and admits to his fascination with guns. Moreover, the movie indicts Dickie, the leader of the gang, for trying to "dandify" Sebastian, the convicted criminal. If there is a moral to this film, it is that liberals should cut the crap, admit how beholden they are to gun culture, and stop talking about redeeming society of violence. The ultimate gunfight is inevitable. America may be damned, but so if everyone else.

DEAR WENDY premiered at Sundance 2005, went on limited cinematic release over the summer and is now available on region 1 and region 2 DVD. The movie cost $8m to make and took $100,000 on theatrical release. This should not be taken as an indication of its quality.

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