In order to keep the cockles of our hearts from frosting over during this age of ubiquitous irony, it has become necessary to sporadically ingest stories of integrity and redemption. However, certain cockle-warming candidates, such as the tear-soaked tales of Nicholas Sparks or anything with a dog that dies in the end, may provide too potent a dose of sentiment for those of us who are lachrymose-intolerant. Thank goodness for a film like The Yellow Handkerchief, which presents a completely implausible road trip with three entirely plausible characters, and promises to send you out of the theater feeling better than when you stepped inside.
William Hurt stars as Brett, a taciturn convict who gets released from prison and almost immediately finds himself heading south toward New Orleans with a pair of teenage misfits, a disheveled beauty named Martine (Kristen Stewart) and a frenetic chatterbox named Gordy (Eddie Redmayne). Perhaps these three are types we’ve seen before, but they are as recognizable for the traits they share with us, the viewers, as those they hold in common with characters from other texts. A series of semi-absurd road stops and coincidences keeps them in the car together long enough to hear the sad tale of Brett’s path to imprisonment, as they roll through Southern landscapes dotted with eccentric detritus such as a school bus graveyard and a tree hung with multi-colored glass bottles. Hurt carries the film effortlessly, letting his weary eyes do the bulk of the work as he plaintively observes the combustible swirl of certainty and confusion between his adolescent companions with a mix of amusement and regret. Eventually, the characters and the audience must balance Brett’s present morality, reflected in his moments of chivalry and snippets of carefully chiseled wisdom, against the sins of his past, which are parceled out in bits and pieces. Though director Udayan Prasad makes some dutiful attempts to withhold information and keep the audience guessing about the nature of the trio’s final destination, the narrative does not hold many surprises, nor should it. The purest pleasure of watching a film with genuine characters who are struggling through trouble and confusion lies in having our recognition and empathy of those struggles affirmed as we observe fate’s inexplicable means for responding to our behavior.
The Yellow Handkerchief is not likely to garner any gold statues or pop up on anyone’s top-ten list at the end of the year, but it does promise a little bit of insight about life and a few laughs along the way. And it will definitely keep those cockles warm and cozy.
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