By AMY NICHOLSON
By JONATHAN KIEFER
By INKOO KANG
By STEPHANIE ZACHAREK
By CALUM MARSH
By NICK SCHAGER
By AARON CUTLER
As its title intones, Dear Wendy is a romance, about what happens when Dick Dandelion (Jamie Bell) falls head over heels for the drop-dead beauty of the title. The movie is even told in flashback, framed by a letter Dick writes to his ladylove. Only Wendy is no ordinary gal: She's a double-action, pearl-handled revolver with an internal hammer—an admittedly obscure object of desire for a committed pacifist who's been deemed too "sensitive" for a job in the local coal mine. But Dick can't deny that having Wendy in his pocket infuses him with a newfound self-confidence—it makes him walk taller. He even forms a secret gun-appreciation society called the Dandies and populates it with other town "losers" and misfits, including Huey (Chris Owen), a young man in leg braces; his brother Freddie (Michael Angarano), who's forever being teased and beaten up over Huey's disability; Susan (Alison Pill), a wicked good shot who will eventually come to compete with Wendy for Dick's affections; and Sebastian (Danso Gordon), the delinquent son of the Dandelions' live-in maid. There's just one catch to being a Dandy: Members may admire, but never use, their coveted weapons—at least outside of the makeshift firing range they've created inside of an abandoned mine shaft.
The Dandies are stand-ins for the millions of self-proclaimed "peace-loving Americans" who own guns only for "protection." Protection from what exactly? Why, other people with guns, of course. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, fueled by the culture of media-fed fear—the one that makes airline passengers skittish around any man in a turban, makes South Countians petrified to drive north of the 55 freeway and, in Dear Wendy, expresses itself in the form of a "gang problem" that has the denizens of fair Estherslope running scared, despite the lack of any hard evidence that such a problem exists. So it is not long into the film before protection gives way to paranoia—before the constant talk of gang violence wills just such a thing into being—and we witness a vivid illustration of that age-old conventional wisdom: Where there're guns, they'll fire.
Dear Wendy starts out as an inspired test case for the continued necessity of the Second Amendment, and only near the end does it lose some of its tightly concentrated focus. The movie builds toward a standoff between the Dandies and the Estherslope authorities (including Bill Pullman as a kindly sheriff) that carries strong echoes of Waco and Ruby Ridge. But the Dandies act more aggressively than the victims did in those earlier sieges, muddying the ideological waters in a way that Dear Wendy doesn't have time to contend with before the end credits roll.
It will surprise few to learn that Dear Wendy, which was directed by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration), was written by Vinterberg's countryman Lars von Trier, whose own Dogville explored the latent cruelty beneath the placid surface of another provincial American mining town and whose forthcoming Manderlay (which premiered this year at Cannes) is about an Alabama plantation where slavery is still in effect, some 70 years after abolition. Dear Wendy isn't as overtly allegorical as those two pictures—for starters, its sets consist of more than chalk outlines. The mere presence of Trier's name on a movie, though, is more than enough to rankle those critics and pundits who object to his bottomless desire to comment on the mores of a country upon whose soil he has never set foot. Vinterberg, for his part, has been to America many times—I've even seen him here with my own eyes twice—yet, as with Trier, a certain cautious distance is key to his vision of our country. That is, America as it is perceived on distant shores, compressed into television images and bounced between far-flung satellites. Which, for Trier and Vinterberg, is a country that shoots first and asks questions later. And that there has perhaps been no time in our recent history when we have been in greater need of just such a perspective.
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