One of the most common European misconceptions of America—the less benign equivalent to our own notion that Germans still can't get enough of David Hasselhoff—is that we all walk around armed at all times. However dysfunctional our country's relationship with firearms, that's simply not true. But imagine if someone made a film as if it were. It would probably look a lot like Dear Wendy, in which a group of young adults in a small Southern mining town build a subculture around their gun fetish. Also like Dear Wendy, it would probably look as if it took place on another planet.
The film is set in Electric Park Square, two blocks of a paved downtown whose chief industry seems to be manufacturing simmering tension, whatever its citizens pull out of the mine. Jamie Bell plays a native son whose sensitive temperament makes him unsuited for mine work. A self-proclaimed pacifist, Bell is nevertheless drawn to an antique gun he purchased, mistaking it for a toy. After finding a kindred spirit in gun aficionado Mark Webber (Storytelling), Bell starts constructing a miniature society in an abandoned mine (and, probably coincidentally, listening to a lot of music by The Zombies). Dubbing themselves the Dandies, they dress in thrift-store 19th-century fashions and live by the twin principles of pacifism and gun-nuttery.
It's big-stick diplomacy on a miniature scale and, for a while, it works. "Everyone carried and nobody knew," Bell recalls in the voiceover narration addressed to his gun (the titular Wendy). There are echoes of Columbine in the sense of confidence Bell and his friends gain from their weapons, and echoes of Waco in the place that confidence eventually takes them. But only echoes, and faint ones at that. Celebration director Thomas Vinterberg directs with un-Dogme-ish flair from a script by Dogme partner Lars von Trier. Technically, it's a finely crafted film, and Bell's performance gives it added weight—but it never earns that weight.
The script plays like a reject from von Trier's ongoing USA—Land Of Opportunity series. In essence, it's really no more absurd or removed from the realities of American life than Dogville. But where that film raised the temperature so slowly that it was easy for viewers to overlook they were being boiled, and anchored it all to recognizable human psychology, Dear Wendy heads directly toward the realm of the wackadoo pretty much from the moment sheriff Bill Pullman sings the praises of chocolate cupcakes in a phony small-town drawl. Its mad rush to offer shallow takes on every Big American Issue would be offensive if it weren't so misguided. It's almost cute the way Dear Wendy thinks it knows what it's talking about and then just keeps going and going long after it's stopped making sense.