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Sundance Review: The Yellow Handkerchief

Three down and almost out strangers become unlikely friends and seek to help each other as they journey through the tough part of their lives.
By  · Published on January 19th, 2008

I am a big proponent of the fact that sometimes (in fact, more often than not) you have to just take a movie for what it is and allow yourself to be entertained. Sometimes, even though a movie might want to say something deeper or mean something more, it ends up serving only that simple purpose. That is the case with The Yellow Handkerchief, another interesting, yet indescribable film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

It tells the story of Martine (Kristen Stewart), a 15 year old girl in Lousiana who befriends Brett (William Hurt), a recently released convict and an emotionally unbalanced and pubescent young man named Gordy (Freddie Redmayne). Together, they travel through the countryside of Louisiana down to a post-Katrina New Orleans. The road trip, as we have seen so many times, serves as a metaphor for the life journey’s of our three main characters.

As the film moves along, quite slowly I might add, we learn more and more about why Brett was in prison, and that it had something to do with his wife May (Maria Bello). The script, penned by Erin Dignam, is a well articulated journey through the lives of four quintessential losers and how their stories evolve together to become a tale of dealing with failure, disappointment and social awkwardness.

While the script was great, the translation to film is a bit dry for my taste. Sure, it kept my attention, as I too wanted to know why Brett was in prison for so long and I too wanted to know why all three of these people were running away from their lives, it just took too long to develop. Had it not been for some illuminating performances from a wonderful cast, I would not have enjoyed this film.

But the performances were illuminating and the film turned out to be enjoyable, despite itself. Kristen Stewart gives one of the better performances that we’ve seen from her. William Hurt also delivers a solid performance, as he always does. Freddie Redmayne though, is certainly the standout of the film. His character goes from spastic to quirky and back again, but never ceases to be endearing as well. In the end, he saves this film from being a real bore.

And that is not to say that the film is not at least visually interesting. In fact, it is at times a very sad portrait of the disaster-torn region of southern Louisiana. Give cinematographer Chris Menges credit for that. Like so many films, while the whole of it did not blow me away, there were plenty of little moments and delightful performances to make it an enjoyable experience. As well, it was a film that accomplished what it was going for. That is, if its goal was to leave no dry eyes in the house as the credits rolled.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)