By Liz Lopez
Benh Zeitlin’s follow-up to ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ (eight years later), is “Wendy” where a young elementary school aged girl, Wendy (played by Tommie Milazzo at age three and by Devin France at 10), has watched her single mother Angela (Shay Walker), toil away at the local diner by the train tracks in their tiny town. She is growing up, side by side in the diner with her two siblings, James and Douglas (twins Gavin and Gage Naquin) and somehow know there is something else in life to experience that is not be so repetitive and limiting. Once she sees the figure of a boy riding freely atop the passing train to who knows where, she hatches a plan to escape with her brothers and see what there is to see while they ride the train. Once the train stops and the adventure continues, the similarity to the “Peter Pan” storyline emerges in this film scripted by sibling screenwriters Benh Zeitlin and Eliza Zeitlin. This is not a Disney film and will most likely be baffling or not quite understood by very young children, but anyone who dreams of “getting away” from it all, or “escaping” something for a while will certainly find something appealing about taking the ride to an unknown destination.
The film is worth seeing on the big screen, not only for the excellent work by these child actors, but for the work by cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, and score Benh Zeitlin composed with Dan Romer (The Good Doctor TV series). Devin France catches the viewer’s attention immediately as she exhibits such sense of longing to see what is out in the world and at such a young age knows to take advantage while she can – lots of curiosity and eagerness to explore life. The twins who portray her brothers are also very aware of what their limited world holds, but yet when Wendy says “go,” they take the leap to join her, facing the challenges bravely. When Peter (Yashua Mack) appears to the siblings – it is obvious there will be an adventure in store beyond their wildest dreams – as Peter has a command in his voice and an inviting mischief in his eyes. The filmmakers keenly work on capturing close – up shots of the actors, and as they are in motion – and plenty of it. This is no time for anyone to nod off during the film with so much going on.
Wendy is wild with excitement, eager to explore the island far away from home with her brothers. When they arrive at this unknown location, they are considered newcomers and Peter has them earn their right to be there with the inhabitants who are not all yet visible to the trio. When they do appear, they tend to be young and don’t age, but eventually, elders are seen and hatch their own plan for getting their youth back after squandering their initial opportunity. While adults may grasp this, many children will not, and this non- Disney type story may prove to be too much for children to comprehend.
There is plenty to like about the film and my suggestion is to not try to compare it to Peter Pan so much. I think it is more enjoyable that way.
Rated PG-13, 112 minutes and opens in Austin March 6th.
Source: Searchlight Pictures