The year was 2012 and in the mountains of Park City, Utah a small independent film with unknown actors, a first time director, and an intriguing title captured the entire festival and would go on to land a Best Picture nomination and even a Best Director nod. Now 8 years later, Benh Zeitlin returns with Wendy, his follow up to the incredible Beasts of the Southern Wild.
I have been waiting years for this follow up and I am thrilled to say I was not disappointed one bit.
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Release Date: February 28, 2020
Wendy is a modern/alternative take on Peter Pan but told in a way that seems set in a world reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are and even Beasts of the Southern Wild. Zeitlin’s incredible eye and personal style create a mesmerizing world that is an absolute joy to spend nearly two hours in.
It’s not a coming of age story, it’s a stopping of age story.
The story follows Wendy, who dreams of being a child forever and never growing old. She and her brothers jump on a passing train and wind up in a beautiful island paradise that’s completely run by children and one in particular named Peter. There are many twists and turns and the story is innovative and emotionally compelling. But what Zeitlin did in his debut feature that made it so memorable and innovative he finds ways to lean into and create stunning visuals and his use of climactic music is a work of art.
The story of Peter Pan is universally loved and it makes so much sense that this would be Zeitlin’s next project. The issues the film touches on, from family to youth, to death and more are all relatable things that make the movie impossible to not connect with. The innocence of youth, and the shattering of it based on a tragic event play part in both these films, but it’s handled with such a captivating tone.
Wendy, like Beasts, is so incredibly rich in emotional substance. Zeitlin gets a performance out of Devin France as Wendy that is remarkable and brings to mind the brilliant Academy Award-nominated performance by Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts.
Zeitlin is clearly developing himself into an auteur. Many of the stunning camera movements and close ups and grand scale shots that made Beasts of the Southern Wild return here and make Wendy feel like a movie with a hundred million dollar budget. Like his cinematography, Zeitlin’s use of sound in his films are a work of art in themselves. How he incorporates the music as a driver of emotion and action is brilliant and such a joy.
After seven years of waiting for a new movie from Zeitlin, it’s hard for me to think of a movie I have ever anticipated more and for longer than Wendy. The fact that I came out of it satisfied is the greatest testament to how good this film actually is. I can’t wait to see it again.