December 16, 2011
“The biggest disease today,” Mother Teresa is supposed to have said, “is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.” Mother Teresa may have been referring primarily to the kind of people she ministered to, people who are poor and disfranchised, but the problems she identified can affect people of all kinds. Three people who are suffering from the “disease” of feeling cut off from any human community are the princpal characters in The Yellow Handkerchief , a 2008 film loosely based on a story by Pete Hamill.
These folks are Brett Hanson (William Hurt), who has just been released after a six-year term in prison; Martine (Kristen Stewart), a 15-year-old girl who has wandered away from her inattentive, single father and her friendless life; and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), a Native American teenager who is on an aimless odyssey. Martine hitches a ride with Gordy after being rejected by a boy who had taken advantage of her, and Brett, who meets the pair chance, joins them on the first leg of his trip back to New Orleans to find his former wife, May (Maria Bello). May, a beautiful but solitary woman bound to the waterways of New Orleans, had married Brett after overcoming what might have been more sensible instincts, and he divorced her as a way of freeing her after the incident that landed him in prison.
This was an odd trio in that Gordy was attracted to Martine, who regarded him as eccentric and immature, and Brett — although he was protective of the teenagers — considered them only as a means to an end, namely returning to New Orleans to find out if May would accept him after the callous way he had left her. As they continue to travel together, however, the three gain more and more insight into each other’s psyches and problems and find that in their isolation and their desire to be “a part of something” they are more alike than they had imagined.
This film was shot against the background of post-Katrina Louisiana. Besides being visually interesting, the grim landscapes and the devastation provide metaphors for loneliness on the one hand and a longing for rebirth on the other.
In spite of Hurt’s persona, this is a true ensemble piece in which he, Stewart, Redmayne, and Bello give credible and sympathetic performances.
March 20, 2010
We watched “Speak,” a 2004 television movie based on a well-received novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, who specializes in books for teens and young adults. “Speak” focuses on Melinda Sordino — played by Kristen Stewart — who is entering high school at a pivotal time in her young life. She has been the victim of a sexual assault, and she has not been able to confide in anyone — a frequent dilemma for women and girls who have been abused. The assault on Melinda has indirectly estranged her from her former clique so that she enters the new school environment as a solitary and lonely figure. Her parents — played by Elizabeth Perkins and D.B. Sweeney — are not completely inattentive to Melinda, but they are preoccupied with their own problems and clueless about hers. In the event, as she is increasingly isolated, Melinda becomes less and less willing to engage anyone in conversation. The only people with whom she has any satisfactory relationships are a rebellious art teacher — played by Steve Zahn — who alternately goads and encourages Melinda to express her self through images of trees, and her lab partner — played by Michael Angarano — who seems immune to the social dynamics of the high school.
This is a well written and well told story. It’s all about Melinda, and therefore all about Kristen Stewart. And Kristen Stewart is up to the challenge. She is this movie, and the other players, perhaps with some help from director and screenplay writer Jessica Sharzer, give Stewart space. The actress has been busy since she made this movie at the age of 13, and it’s reasonable to expect that she’ll stay that way.
Melinda is presented as an observer of her own life, and her narration is laced through the story. Stewart’s understated delivery of the quick-witted teenager’s sardonic remarks adds palpable substance to the film. “It’s time for a mental health day,” Melinda explains. “So conjugate this: I cut class. You cut class. He/she/it cuts class.”
The Lifetime Channel will broadcast this film at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 23.