Yellow Handkerchief, The (United States, 2008)March 09, 2010
Sluggish. Torpid. Boring. Those three words (and more) can describe The Yellow Handkerchief, a stultifying road trip movie whose inept screenplay is only partially counterbalanced by a trio of nice performances. There's only so much a talented actor can do with a poor script, and this represents an extreme case. The movie clocks in with a running length of 102 minutes but it feels like it lasts as long as the gestation period for a human baby.
The Yellow Handkerchief explores the interaction of three strangers on a gulf coast road trip. There's Brett Hanson (William Hurt), newly released from prison after serving a six-year sentence for manslaughter; lonely 15-year old Martine (Kristen Stewart), who just wants someone to notice her; and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), a photographer whose car is the vehicle that represents the means of travel. As they spend time with one another, they learn things about the pasts, presents, and possible futures of their companions. The destination ends up being the house where Brett lived with his ex-wife, May (Maria Bello), and where he hopes to achieve closure.
Normally, I enjoy talky movies, but that presupposes that the dialogue is smart and engaging and that the characters are intriguing. In The Yellow Handkerchief, one can make a case for the latter but not for the former. These individuals sound like they're reading off cue cards. Little of what they say rings true and that not only makes their conversations uninteresting but it fundamentally damages the viewer's ability to relate to the protagonists. This doesn't happen in isolated instances; it occurs on almost every occasion when they characters speak to one another. They reveal things not as one would in the normal course of talking but based on the demands of the plot.
The film's second half contrives to bring us Brett's backstory via a series of flashbacks. As dubious and awkward as the device that delves into his past is (he's narrating the story to his traveling companions), it gets the job done. However, as the mystery of Brett's past is dispelled, we discover he's not as interesting as we imagined him to be. Once the flashbacks are complete and we're fully back in the present time, we learn that The Yellow Handkerchief is actually a loose adaptation of the old Tony Orlando and Dawn song, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree."
Of the three solid performances, the best belongs to William Hurt, who displays a chameleon-like ability to inhabit a low-life loser on the road to redemption. Kirsten Stewart, in her pre-Twilight days, is fresh and credible and Maria Bello, despite appearing primarily in flashbacks, is a capable fit for her role. That leaves Eddie Redmayne, who is less-than-appealing. It's hard to say whether Gordy is annoying because that's how he's written or because Redmayne isn't an especially good actor, but the end result is the same: the character is a constant source of irritation; the film is noticeably more enjoyable whenever he's not on screen.
Despite a respectable cast, The Yellow Handkerchief has sat on the shelf for nearly three years. The director, Udayan Prasad, is something of an unknown quantity (he does not have any "A list" films on his resume), and no major distributor was willing to take a chance on such a listless, dialogue-intensive motion picture. The Samuel Goldwyn Company paid a minimal amount for the rights, viewing this as a low-risk, high-reward endeavor. They will no doubt heavily promote Kristen Stewart's involvement, hoping to bilk Twilight fans into seeing this movie. There's little enough to appeal to them in The Yellow Handkerchief and almost nothing for anyone else.
Yellow Handkerchief, The (United States, 2008)
Cast: William Hurt, Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne, Maria Bello
Screenplay: Erin Dignam
Cinematography: Chris Menges
Music: Jack Livesey
U.S. Distributor: The Samuel Goldwyn Company