Lorelei

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Lorelei
"With women like this so often reduced to a sexy and destructive cliché by male directors, it's interesting to observe her from a more human angle."

Learning to live again on the outside after 15 years in prison is always a tough ask. Many people don't make it, but Wayland (Pablo Schreiber) is determined to be one of those who do. Initially provided with shelter by a tough but fair pastor (Trish Egan) who may have a few secrets of her own, he manages to find a job and start earning an honest living. He also meets Dolores (Jena Malone), the teenage girlfriend he left behind, who now has three kids to look after but doesn't seem to have done much growing up, perhaps because it's difficult to become anything that feels worthwhile in the perpetually grim surroundings of small town Oregon. She's still excited by him and before long he gets permission to move in with her, but there's a deep restlessness about her that sets alarm bells ringing. Is she just looking for a father for her kids so that she can escape? And how can he stay out of trouble when his income is tiny and he has four more mouths to feed?

Sabrina Doyle's film is acutely observed, with a meandering narrative which reflects the lack of control that poverty brings. It features a particularly fine performance from Malone, who makes her character's rebellion seem reasonable, if inconvenient for everyone else. With women like this so often reduced to a sexy and destructive cliché by male directors, it's interesting to observe her from a more human angle.

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Right from the start, Wayland is conflicted about her, aware of the danger of getting too close yet forgiving in part because he knows how much his own arrest affected her. He's also conflicted about the sudden experience of fatherhood, resisting it as much as he can. There's a streak of racial tension between him and Dolores' dark-skinned teenager, Dodger (Chancellor Perry), whilst the boy clearly feels responsible for shielding his younger siblings from further emotional upset. Middle child Periwinkle Blue (Amelia Borgerding) is world-wearing in her tween years, apparently used to having to try and get her mother into shape and ensure that they can make ends meet; she's also quietly terrified that teenage pregnancy and single motherhood may be an inevitable part of her own future. Meanwhile, youngest child Denim (Parker Pascoe-Sheppard) is increasingly distraught about being expected to live as a boy. It's this latter situation, which one might expect to be fraught, that Wayland handles with instinctive grace, but the kid's growing affection for him is something far more intimidating.

With parole officers watching closely and Wayland's old gang an inescapable presence in his life, each day is full of hidden dangers. Doyle succeeds admirably in capturing one off those situations where simply surviving requires so much emotional energy that there's none left for dealing with the bigger issues. Sometimes Dolores is Lola, Lolo, Lolly, Lo, and one thinks of a certain passage in Nabakov, and of the future he hinted at for his young heroine. Lorelei is the siren of legend, luring sailors to their deaths, and Dolores, once admired for her swimming, dreams of becoming a mermaid. But there's love there also - love for her children and perhaps for Wayland too - if she can find a way to express it without losing all hope of freedom.

A film that appreciates the value of fantasy in the bleakest of circumstances, Lorelei deftly balances despair and hope, recognising how they feed into one another, how they both hinge on the belief that there must be more to life.

Reviewed on: 23 May 2020
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Reformed ex-con Wayland returns to his hometown and reconnects with his high school girlfriend Dolores, now a single mom with dreams of Hollywood in Doyle’s fable-like tale of second chances.

Festivals:

Tribeca 2020

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