Film Reviews

Wendy review: Dir. Benh Zeitlin (2021)

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find a film that provides me with just want I need in that moment. Ahead of my birthday this week, Wendy has provided me with a reminder I didn’t know I needed – to never forget I was a child.

Devin France stars as Wendy, a young girl living in the rural South, bored of trying to find things to occupy her time alongsider her twin brothers James and Douglas (Gavin and Gage Naquin), as their mother runs her own restaurant. As a baby, she witnessed a neighbour, Thomas (Krzysztof Meyn), disappear into the sunset by boarding a train, encouraged onboard by a mysterious child running along the top, shouting his name. Thomas was never seen again and Wendy hasn’t stopped thinking about that moment.

One night, Wendy looks out her window to see the same train passing by, the same strange boy calling for her to join him. Waking her brothers, Wendy boards and is introduced to Peter (Yashua Mack), who tells them they’re joining him on an adventure. After travelling through the night, the children climb into a rowboat, captained by Cudjoe Head (Romyri Ross), a friend of Peter’s who takes them to a magical island. There, the children meet Thomas, who hasn’t aged a day since leaving nine years ago. You see, the island is powered by Mother, a mystical spirit in the form of a fish, and as long as the inhabitants believe in Mother’s magic they will never age.

Exploring the island together, the gang meet more ‘unaged’ children, get into serious trouble, discover a colony of Olds, and start to miss home. But when you dread adulthood and the monotonous boredom you think you’re destined to inherit, should you stay? Only Wendy can make that decision for herself and her brothers.

Directed by Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), this reimagined telling of Peter Pan is both beautiful and heartbreaking, as our young main characters battle with their fears of growing up and growing old – something we can all relate to.

Zeitlin, acclaimed for his feature-length directorial debut, has said that, ‘On every birthday of our childhoods, my sister Eliza and I wished as we blew out the candles that we would never grow up. We were terrified of our older selves and desperate to determine what kind of loss turns kids into grown-ups, before it was too late, and that door closed forever.’ Inspired by his own childhood dreams, Zeitlin picked the classic story but has chosen to focus on Wendy, the ‘real girl’ left behind by Peter to grow up – but what if she decides not to?

Similar in visual style to Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wendy is a deeply immersive visual ride from the start. Shooting from ‘kid level’, we’re with them as they run after the train, jumping the carriages, splashing into the island’s depths, running from danger, and rescuing one another. The use of warm tones, natural lighting and diegetic sound only add to this feeling – we’re there with them and we feel that tear between the island and home life.

France as the titular character is a superb choice. Engaging to watch and incredibly believable, it’s hard to process that this is her first role. Natural as the lead, every emotion, every type of pain crosses her face and is so true. She’s destined for big things.

Supported by a fantastic cast of kids and adults alike, Wendy is a moving retelling of a story so many of us are familiar with, with a modern twist. You’ll thrive off the adventure and you’ll sob during the last 10 minutes, just like I did. A reminder to every adult watching not to lose your magic.

Wendy is in UK cinemas now.

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