Review by Sean Boelman
The feature debut of writer-director Sabrina Doyle, Lorelei is an undeniably ambitious tale of redemption. Yet despite all the good intentions in the world and some breathtaking visuals, the film is dragged down by underbaked dialogue and wooden performances that keep the film from feeling honest.
The film follows a recently released ex-convict as he reunites with his high school sweetheart, who has three children and a slew of problems of her own, causing them both to wonder what they lost due to their past mistakes. The redemption arc in this film is a powerful one, and while it aligns relatively well with the family melodrama that provides a majority of the film’s external conflict, Doyle can’t seem to figure out whether she wants the internal or external forces to be dominant.
With her film, Doyle does succeed in opening up an interesting conversation about the American justice system and how ex-convicts often struggle to reintegrate themselves within society. This portion of the story offers an important message to be heard, and while it could have benefitted from being explored more prominently, it gives the film a certain emotional impact.
However, the dialogue in the film is often too stilted for the film to have any natural impact. There is a ton of exposition in the film and very little of it is truly needed for the story. Scenes stretch on for too long with repetition, and in some cases, could have been eliminated entirely. Clocking in at an hour and fifty minutes, there are at least ten minutes that could have been shaved off the runtime.
The character development in the film is also frustrating. The protagonist has an arc that, while conventional, is mostly effective. But the arc of his romantic interest is almost entirely shoved into the final act, and the three kids that serve a central part in the story are left entirely without development. As a result, it becomes difficult to buy into the film’s emotion.
Jena Malone gives a strong performance in her supporting role, once again being the force that keeps an otherwise mostly mediocre film afloat. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast feels out of their element in the film. Pablo Schreiber gives an admirable attempt in his leading role, but can’t handle the more vulnerable scenes in the film, and the three young performers were all too emotionless.
There are some strong visuals in the film, but Doyle’s strong eye feels largely wasted on a script that can’t figure out what it wants to be. There are some great uses of visual metaphor sprinkled throughout, but they are too inconsistent to be of much significance. The score by Jeff Russo is also memorable but underutilized.
Lorelei should definitely be praised for what it says and what it tries to do, but Doyle isn’t always able to rein in her unwieldy script. Still, a lot of audiences will connect with this uneven redemption story because of its hopeful message.
Lorelei was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.