Review by Dan Skip Allen
Behn Zeitlin broke onto the scene in 2012 with the micro-budget film Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film about a little girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) in the bayous of New Orleans. Zeitlin used no-names and guerrilla filmmaking to make this film. His follow-up, Wendy, was made in a very similar style of filmmaking. With once again unknown actors, Zeitlin and his wife Eliza wrote the screenplay inspired by the classic story of Peter Pan.
Wendy (Devin France) and her two brothers live an everyday life until they see a little boy on top of a train and they decide to go after him. They jump onto the train and find out that the boy is known as Peter Pan (Yashua Mack), and he takes Wendy, Douglas (Gage Naquin), and James (Gavin Naquin) to a mysterious island where children don't age and time is not the same as they know it. Zeitlin's style lends itself to this story very well.
Zeitlin cast unknowns which can be difficult sometimes because, more often than not, they haven't acted or have very little acting experience before filming. Devin France and Yashua Mack give fantastic performances as Wendy and Peter, respectively. Zeitlin seems to be able to get great performances from these child actors, as he also did with Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Child actors can usually be difficult to work with, but Zeitlin seems like a master at working with them.
Not knowing what's going on or where or when this story takes place is part of the charm of the film. As a result, what the kids are going through is what the audience is going through as well. These kids have ups and downs. The story is about them and how they decide things and work out their problems and situations. Adults could learn a lot from this story. Kids have a way of thinking that's different than adults — a simpler way of thinking that is more straightforward.
Through the eyes of these kids, we see innocence and that's why the Peter Pan story was a perfect fit for Zeitlin's script and filmmaking style. With all the sequels and cinematic universes going on in cinemas these days, Wendy stands out as a new and different kind of film. With unknown child actors and beautiful cinematography, this film was fun and all about what it's like to be young and innocent. The Zeitlins accomplished their goal of following up Beasts of the Southern Wild with another good film.
Wendy is now playing in theaters.