If Jamie Bell wants to bury Billy Elliot for ever, then Dear Wendy is a pretty good way to go about it. Twisted, provocative and downright weird, it's a satirical critique of America's pervasive gun culture, bound to both offend and thrill.
After Dogville and It's All About Love, we've come to anticipate strangeness from Dogme 95 founders Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Even by their standards, however, this is going some.
Narrated by Bell in a flawless midwestern accent, Wendy explores his character's unlikely romance with an antique firearm and, by extension, his country's fascination with lethal weaponry. To the hero's cadre of teenaged pistol freaks, guns are "partners" that must never be "brandished" lest they "fulfil their destiny". Such terminology is as patently screwball as the capes, turbans and stovepipe hats the kids don in their secret underground firing range. But they are no less disingenuous than "collateral damage", "weapons of mass destruction" and all the other cosy euphemisms we've become so familiar with over the last few years.
Still, you have to wonder if a surreal, hyper-stylised fantasy is the best way to address such a thorny problem - especially one that navigates a wobbly path between naturalistic drama and heavy-handed political allegory. Set around a meticulously realised square (built from scratch outside Copenhagen), Vinterberg's film aims at an all-American, small-town authenticity that renders its heroes' activities all the more outlandish. But you sense von Trier's script would be more at home on one of Dogville's yawning soundstages, aesthetically distanced from such pesky considerations as internal logic and plausible motivation.
The performances are top-notch though, with Bell lending both integrity and pathos to his troubled youth and Bill Pullman providing avuncular support as Estherslope's kindly police chief. The Western-flavoured finale, meanwhile, is a visceral tour de force, Vinterberg channelling Sam Peckinpah as the kids prove a wild bunch indeed.
Armed with a fine turn from Jamie Bell, Denmark's input to the gun debate is bold and intriguing, despite the occasional tonal misfire.
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