Tribeca Review: Lorelei
Sabrina Doyle understands movement. The director’s feature debut, Lorelei, rests heavily on the broad, encumbered shoulders of Wayland (Pablo Schreiber), a 30-something biker just released from 16 years in lock-up. It floats along with Dolores (Jena Malone), Wayland’s high school girlfriend whose childhood dreams come bubbling up with the return of her once and future beau, slamming into the reality of single motherhood. And it thrums with the anarchic energy of her three children - Periwinkle Blue, Denim Blue, and Dodger Blue - a combustible mix of past, present, and future that Doyle effectively keeps at a simmer, occasionally bringing it close to the surface. Lorelei is the story of a couple reunited and a woman transformed, navigating the mundane but very real problems that were so far from their romantic horizons the last time they were together, recently graduated from high school. The movie itself, though, is far from mundane. It’s haunting, capturing the longing for possibility and potential that creeps in as the years go by. It’s hilarious, taking advantage of the clash between world-weary ex-con Wayland and his new girlfriend’s younger children, Periwinkle and Denim. And it’s melodramatic at times, but in the best way - the kind that comes when you’ve invested so heavily and honestly in capturing a group of people, that treating them anything less than earnestly would be disrespectful. Lorelei effectively eschews and undermines cliche. Not because it’s trying to impart wisdom on an audience, but because that’s how life is; people don’t fit neatly into a box, however comfortable that might make us feel. Wayland’s biker gang - the one that got him into trouble a decade and a half earlier - doesn’t force him into his old life just for the sake of a neatly plotted climax. His parole officer isn’t an indomitable hard-ass meant to represent the entire bureaucracy of the criminal justice system - he’s just a person, weary of his job but still hopeful. And Pastor Gail, a local do-gooder who houses Wayland until he finds a place to stay, doesn’t impose her own spiritual preoccupations on him just to create tension. All these people are written and portrayed as the protagonists of their own stories, stories that exist just off-screen, that crossover with Wayland and Dolores’s stories at times, but that fade away at others. But story is not what defines Lorelei, and it’s not what heralds Sabrina Doyle as one of the most exciting newcomers of the year. Bookended by two mesmerizing images of Dolores submerged in water, Doyle evokes the ethereality of dreams - both waking and sleeping - through images and motion. Dream sequences bleed into reality, as the metronomic pulse of a tire swing or the controlled chaos of family karaoke night contain as much magic as the hazy images that visit us when we sleep. Malone is magnetic, constantly pushing forward to keep herself from looking back. Schreiber is pitch-perfect; it’s not a showy role, but his sturdy, stagnant, physical presence matches perfectly his role as emotional anchor, for both Dolores and the film. Doyle juxtaposes the two visually, perfectly captured in two sex scenes - one aborted, the other consummated. In the first, largely from Wayland’s perspective, Doyle uses jump-cuts to rotely fast-forward through the undressing and foreplay stages. In the latter, from Dolores’s point of view, a spotlight shines on their bodies, the background fading out, nothing else existing outside of them. Again, a romantic nostalgia that exists side-by-side with the harsh reality. Doyle also creates a singular but realistic family, a patchwork of personalities that includes three distinct children, all of them refusing to fall into the easy clichés of hatred toward their mother’s new boyfriend. Dodger Blue, at one point, complains to Wayland that “we’re a family of nobodies,” living on the fringes of society, striving just to survive. The brilliance of Lorelei comes in just how much Doyle makes these people matter just by showing that daily struggle to survive - a struggle no different from the one that millions go through every day.