The Movie Waffler First Look Review - LORELEI | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - LORELEI

lorelei review
A convict resumes his relationship with his high school sweetheart upon release.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sabrina Doyle

Starring: Jena Malone, Pablo Schreiber, Amelia Borgerding, Chancellor Perry, Trish Evans, Parker Pascoe-Sheppard

lorelei poster

When convicts are released from prison they're usually met by family members at the gates. That's not the case for Wayland (Pablo Schreiber). Well, it is and it isn't. When he walks through the prison gates after serving a 15 year stretch - exacerbated by his refusal to snitch on his partner in an armed robbery - he's met not by his blood family, but by a family of another kind. Waiting astride their hogs are the members of the outlaw biker gang he ran with prior to his conviction. At that moment they're the closest Wayland has to family.

The feature debut of writer/director Sabrina Doyle, Lorelei explores the notion of what makes a family. Is it, as Wayland initially believes, those who share your blood? Or is a true family something you find and build for yourself? Is it the bikers who collected a wad of cash in your absence to express their thanks for keeping shtum? Is it the pastor (Trish Egan) who gives you a room even though she knows she'll never make you believe in God? Is it your high school sweetheart and her three kids?

lorelei review

If family is ultimately the people you rely on, then for Wayland it's all of the above. Upon returning to his hometown, Wayland immediately reconnects with Dolores (Jena Malone) for the first time in 15 years. The two were star-crossed teenagers with a dream of ditching their one-horse Oregon town for the bright lights of Oregon. With Wayland behind bars and Dolores raising three kids, that dream never panned out.

The arrival of Wayland back into Dolores' life pulls both of them in alternate directions. Moving in with his sweetheart, Wayland immediately takes to domesticity, becoming the father her kids never had. Conversely, Wayland's presence reminds Dolores of what might have been and the dreams she gave up, ultimately causing her to flee for LA, leaving the ex-con to look after her kids.

lorelei review

We recently saw Cate Blanchett pull a similar stunt in Richard Linklater's Where'd You Go, Bernadette?. But where the heroine of that film felt selfish and entitled for running out on her family, here we empathise with Dolores' decision. Dolores wears a brave face throughout, even in moments where she's clearly dying inside. In one difficult to watch scene she presents her 12-year-old daughter Peri (Amelia Borgerding) with birthday gifts from a thrift store. There's a brutal honesty in how Peri reacts, scolding her mother for another perceived parental failure, oblivious to the sacrifices she's made. It's only when left alone in a faeces covered motel room she's expected to clean as part of her job that she finally breaks down.

Schreiber and Malone are magnificent in roles that require very different emotional trajectories. The former goes from a sullen nihilist to a man who sees hope in a future with his surrogate family, while the latter only seems to lose hope. They're both upstaged by Borgerding, the sort of expressive child star you could imagine being snapped up by Spielberg. The scene where Peri gets her first period in her mother's absence is a piece of staggeringly good acting.

lorelei review

Doyle hails from England, and here she transfers the sort of kitchen sink story that might normally play out on a British council estate to what might be disparagingly labelled an American white trash milieu. There's a sense that Doyle is mixing heartfelt insight with a sense of working class America gleaned from country songs. Wayland and Dolores could easily have stepped out of a Springsteen song, but they feel wonderfully alive to the viewer, if not to themselves. There are some beautiful, subtle bits of character observation, such as Wayland's naivete when it comes to female issues, having never been around women as an adult. Or his awkwardness around a Black hardware store owner, having likely spent the last 15 years viewing anyone with a different skin colour as the enemy.

The best movies leave us wondering what's next for their protagonists. Lorelei leaves us feeling that Wayland, Dolores and her kids are facing a long, hard road. But if they face it as a family, they just might make it.

 is in US cinemas and VOD from July 30th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2021 movie reviews