WENDY (2020): Review by FF2 Media

Written by Benh and Eliza Zeitlin, Wendy is a reimagination and modernization of the classic fairy tale, Peter Pan, told from the perspective of Wendy. Visually and auditorily stunning, this film captures the wonder of being a child (JRL: 4 / 5)  

Review by FF2 Intern Julia Lasker

Wendy opens on a spritely young toddler with a head full of curls, who hobbles around a busy diner run by her single mother. She watches another young boy, Thomas, intently as her mom declares that she and Thomas will one day run the diner. In protest, Thomas runs out the door, rips off his pants and waves them in the air like a flag, and jumps on to a moving train at the beckon of another youngster who sits on top of it. 

A few years later, nine-year-old Wendy (Devin France) has not lost her fascination with the moving train. One night, she sees the young boy on top of the train, this time beckoning her. In a frenzy, she wakes her twin brothers Douglas and James (real identical twins Gage and Gavin Naquin) and they hop on the train without sparing a moment to say goodbye to their mother. They are greeted by Peter (Yashua Mack), who guides them through the beautiful landscapes. Suddenly, he pushes them off the train into an ocean, and they swim to a huge and glorious island, with a smoking volcano looming over it. 

Now in Neverland, Wendy and her brothers join a group of wild young boys, including Thomas, who hasn’t aged since the day he left on the train. They romp around the island, play-fighting and swimming in beautiful underground caves. Peter introduces them to the Mother, a huge, whale-like creature with a glowing golden underbelly, But Wendy soon learns that everlasting youth isn’t a guarantee in Neverland; if you stop believing, you grow old, and fast: a fact which eventually threatens the entire island. 

The film’s principle actors deliver performances that are just as compelling, if not more, than those of adults in the field. Devin France as Wendy (her very first onscreen role!) has incredible power and command of the screen as well a face you just don’t want to take your eyes off of. Her counterpart, Yashua Mack who plays Peter, matches her power impressively, and brings new complexity and depth to the formerly rather straight-forward character. 

The writers (Benh and Eliza Zeitlin) exhibit skill, as well. Their reimagination does a wonderful job of making a classic story feel urgent and relevant to our time. Wendy begins the film already working, at such a young age, in a diner; she has to, because her mother is single, raising three children, and working day in and day out. No wonder Wendy longs for an escape, for the ability to feel like a kid and not an adult. This film is echoing a very real experience for kids who grow up poor, especially those with single parents. 

Very few films have evoked the level of excitement in me that the first half of Wendy did; something about the wonder of the children and the beauty of Neverland when they first discover it filled me with an unprecedented amount of joy. Admittedly, the film felt like it slowed down a bit once the excitement of the kids discovering the island and finding the freedom to run around and play wore off, and the plot lost the high-action, exhilarating element that it had started off with. This made for an ending that wasn’t as satisfying as the beginning of the film had promised. 

However, to me, the mastery of the film just isn’t the plot. What’s incredible about what writers Benh and Eliza Zeitlin and director Benh Zeitlin have done with Wendy is the feeling that they create: the feeling of excitement and joy just referenced above. There are constant scenes of the kids running around, playing pretend, and laughing loudly, a voiceover in the form of imaginative storytelling, and constant moments of wonder inspired by the island. The music adds another layer of drama and awe. This film brings the feeling of being a kid right back to you, reminding you how magical that time of life truly is. 

© Julia Lasker FF2 Media (3/5/20)

Review Commentary by Contributing Editor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Wendy addresses a lot of the critiques that could be made of the whole Peter Pan story, but it still doesn’t deal with the fact that Wendy is expected to be a “mother” to a bunch of boys who by their own admission refuse to grow up. While the Lost Boys don’t explicitly name Wendy as their mother in this film, it’s still pretty clear by the way she has to save them from virtually every danger that this indeed her role. It was never fair to Wendy that she ends up having to play the role of the adult for others even in a fantasy world where supposedly kids never have to grow up. 

When you look at Wendy’s world outside of Neverland, you realize that this is duplicated in her everyday life. In the beginning, it’s made clear that Wendy’s two brothers get to run around like hooligans while Wendy is stuck helping her mom out at the diner. Her mom is even raising Wendy and her brothers as a single parent, and while I forget if the dad is supposed to be dead or if he actually left them, the effect is that a woman is still the only responsible one in the family. I would have loved for that to actually be addressed rather than being placed as a fairly background element of the story. The level of notice this pattern is given by the narrative just doesn’t make it seem like this was an intentional statement on the offloading of emotional labor onto women so much as an uncritical reproduction of it.

Q: Does Wendy pass the Bechdel-Wallace test? 

A: Yes!

Photos Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

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