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Devin France and Yashua Mack star in Wendy, writer-director's reimagining of the story of Peter Pan.

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

  • Wendy
  • Directed by Benh Zeitlin
  • Written by Benh Zeitlin and Eliza Zeitlin
  • Starring Devin France, Yashua Mack and Shay Walker
  • Classification PG; 112 minutes

rating

2 out of 4 stars

When repetition is done right, it can be something of an art. There is the work of Wes Anderson, for instance, who has played with and plied the same aesthetic his whole career – and while there are many, many critics and moviegoers out in the world thirsting for his downfall over a presumed lack of stylistic maturity, there is something to be said about honing and perfecting a sensibility, too.

With his second film Wendy, Anderson contemporary Benh Zeitlin seems to be falling into a different sort of loop – a rerun that’s more rote than refined. It doesn’t help that Zeitlin chose, as his long-in-the-works follow-up to 2012′s come-from-nowhere sensation Beasts of the Southern Wild, to make yet another retelling of J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan, a story by now as familiar as one’s own shadow.

What’s new in theatres this weekend, including the delightful Onward and regrettable Rob Ford film Run This Town

Zeitlin once again draws strong performances from young actors, particularly Devin France.

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Zeitlin filters his new film through the same kind of Southern-spiced gothic vision as Beasts – all shaky cameras, twinkling magic hour-landscapes and set design that reasserts nature’s dominance over the modern world – and the film’s conceit to give the anarchic Peter (Yashua Mack) a worthy adversary in Wendy (Devin France) rather than a romantic foil is admirable. The director also proves that he still has an excellent eye for casting young performers, with France particularly strong, even when saddled with voiceover narration that too clearly underlines her every on-screen emotional beat.

Story continues below advertisement

Yet after half an hour in Wendy’s world, it is clear that Zeitlin has exhausted both his visual imagination and whatever narrative interest he had in Barrie’s tale other than “kids, they grow up fast.” Which leaves you with too much time to wonder how much needless stress the film’s young actors might have accumulated during production, given the movie’s curious leanings on dark, almost feral-like antics. (There is a somewhat inspired reworking of Captain Hook’s origins here, but it relies on a moment so brutal in execution that it will traumatize any young viewer who might have been mistakenly dragged to the theatre.)

It would be somewhat unfair to completely write off Zeitlin after two films, the first of which still carries a warm memory (although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of revisiting Beasts). But at the moment, he’s as much a lost boy as anyone in Wendy.

Wendy opens March 6 in Toronto, March 13 in Montreal and Vancouver, and March 20 in other Canadian cities

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