Dear Wendy is an unsettling and thought-provoking drama from avowed contrarian Lars Von Trier and fellow Dogme disciple Thomas Vinterberg; the former wrote this stylized fable about American gun violence and the latter, responsible for the shattering The Celebration, directed a stellar cast of young adults, including the always fascinating Jamie Bell. Set in a nameless American town (the film shot on location in Copenhagen, Denmark and Germany), Dear Wendy is a sly, biting exploration of what fuels violence.
Despite being set in a nondescript, seemingly average American town, many of the characters speak with a distinctly Texan twang (draw whatever incendiary political overtones out of that you'd like) – Bell stars as Dick Dandelion, a youthful loner who chances upon a vintage handgun he dubs "Wendy." Not long after meeting "Wendy," Dick decides to form a loose gang, known as "The Dandies," with every member bearing a firearm, preferably one with a name. These misfits and their humanized weapons pass the time concocting rules and taking target practice within the depths of an abandoned mine. The rebel lifestyle is a seductive one and one which soon unravels, due to outside forces encroaching upon The Dandies' way of life.
Von Trier and Vinterberg channel "The Lord of the Flies" here, lining that trusted narrative with their decidedly fatalistic view of guns; grimly ironic and over the top, Dear Wendy bitingly mocks the idea of "pacifists with guns" as well as the notion that those who choose to idolize guns can resist the seductive lure of violence for long. The audacious, nearly operatic climax is at once chilling and a vicious send-up of Hollywood big-bang blockbusters; on top of all the satirical jabs is the not-so-subtle political commentary, alluding to America's infatuation with dispensing justice and aligning philosophies with the barrel of a gun.
Bell, who continues to display an astonishing range with each successive film, heads up an extraordinary cast, which includes Mark Webber, Michael Angarano, Danso Gordon, Chris Owen, Alison Pill and Bill Pullman; the occasionally pointed dialogue is artfully handled by this young collection of thespians – the Brechtian artifice so readily employed by Von Trier (witness Dogville and Manderlay) is applied lightly here and these teen actors revel in the heightened reality. Dear Wendy is, as Dick describes The Dandies, a sort of "social experiment," where two foreigners peel back America's facade to discover what makes our bloodlust tick.
Dear Wendy is outfitted with a serviceable 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that highlights Anthony Dod Mantle's evocative cinematography, despite the occasional appearance of grain (mainly during the low-lit scenes). Mostly sharp with some instances of blow-out (likely an artistic choice), this is a solid, if unremarkable transfer.
The Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack included here is surprisingly full, with plenty of punch from the low end. Relying upon an ironic selection of Zombies classics ("Time of the Season," among others), the pop songs have nice presence, as do the copious gunshots. Dialogue is heard clean and clear, with no distortion.
Thankfully, a number of supplemental features are included, not the least of which is a rather lax, rambling commentary by Vinterberg and Dod Mantle, that nevertheless imparts a great deal of behind the scenes information about the film; another interesting touch is "9 Letters to Dear Wendy," a sort of mini-group commentary where Vinterberg, Webber, Pill, Gordon, Angarano, Bell and Owen briefly chat over a selection of clips from the film - it runs about 20 minutes in total. Four deleted scenes, plus the original scripted ending, are included - playable separately or together for an aggregate of 16 minutes. "Letters To Dear Wendy" is a 25 minute, full screen behind the scenes featurette and "The Director & Screenwriter: An Interview With Thomas Vinterberg and Lars Von Trier," is 16 minutes and 50 seconds of precisely that, presented in anamorphic widescreen and in Danish with English subtitles. Rounding out the disc is the theatrical trailer for Dear Wendy and trailers for Unknown White Male, The Intruder, Happy Hour, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Live Freaky! Die Freaky! and Reel Paradise.
Thought-provoking and unsettling, Dear Wendy is a fantastical exploration of America's fascination with guns in relation to violence – Jamie Bell heads up a spectacular cast in this Thomas Vinterberg-directed, Lars Von Trier-scripted drama. Highly recommended.