2020 Tribeca Film Festival: One of cinema’s tragedies is that too few storytellers know how to utilize Jena Malone properly. Early work like “Contact,” “For Love of the Game,” “Life as a House,” and “Saved!,” showcased her talents. Recently, however, not many filmmakers have opted to give her juicy roles. That changes with “Lorelei,” a moving character study that has her best character to play, as well as her best performance in years.
“Lorelei” isn’t a two-hander, but the central reason to see this movie is to watch Malone and Pablo Schreiber light up the screen. The duo is achingly flawed and deeply real, enriching the story being told. The plot itself doesn’t fully hit the mark, but watching these two deal with love and regret is never less than compelling. It all builds to a conclusion that may prove divisive but rings true for the characters we’ve grown to know.
Fresh out of prison, former biker gang member Wayland (Schreiber) is a lost man. After a decade and a half in jail, he barely can use a computer, has no job experience, and nowhere to go. However, while helping out Pastor Gail (Trish Egan), who is giving him room and board, he sees his ex-girlfriend Dolores (Malone). In short order, they rekindle what they had back in high school. Initially, the fact that she’s a single mother of three scares Wayland, but soon he returns, eager to pick up where they left off, years ago. Before either one expects it, he’s moved in.
Now a certified family man, Wayland must adjust to the new normal with Dolores and her kids, Dodger Blue (Chancellor Perry), Periwinkle Blue (Amelia Borgerding), and Denim Blue (Parker Pascoe-Sheppard). Though unequipped in the ways of parenting, he has a good heart and wants to do the right thing. As he slowly makes inroads with the kids, Dolores is struggling. Her job as a hotel maid drains her, she doesn’t fully trust Wayland, and poverty is taking its toll. When she reaches a breaking point, it puts a whole new burden on the makeshift family, especially as some less than legal moneymaking ventures prove to be deep temptations for Wayland.
Jena Malone and Pablo Schreiber invest their all in these characters. Early moments showing their flirtation and reunion have a lot left unsaid, but their eyes say a ton. Later on, life takes its toll, but we remember the spark that brought them together. Even when they make bad choices, they’re always flawed people with good hearts. Malone gets to go to more dramatic places than Schreiber, though both are at their best here. Malone especially leaves a deep impression, especially when her character becomes overwhelmed with dissatisfaction with how her life has turned out.
Writer/director Sabrina Doyle hasn’t met a dramatic conflict she’s not eager to stuff into her film. Sometimes, it works incredibly well, mainly when it focuses on Malone or Schreiber. Other times, it’s a bit much. Doyle has Malone’s Dolores make a handful of irrational choices that seem out of nowhere, initially, while Schreiber’s Wayland gets caught in one plot development after the next. With fewer actors, this would have sunk the movie. Luckily, they’re both up to the task, allowing Doyle to go for melodrama and bold choices. They don’t always work, but the ambition here is palpable.
“Lorelei” has passion on its side. A story of redemption and second chances, those yearning for some heavy drama, will likely be taken by what they find here. This kind of movie plays every year at Tribeca, but not all are as successful as this one. The central performances, and especially the one from Malone, lead the way and make it an effective experience, one that’s worth investing.
“Lorelei” is a part of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and is currently seeking distribution.