Are we really at this point in cinema history yet again? Have the fruits of a compliant film-crit universe, corporate-owned 'independentâ?� specialty branches and a national mood that reflects surface-level eagerness to appear angry come to bear like they did in the 1980s?Â
Watching The Yellow Handkerchief, a castrated and entirely needless remake of a long-forgotten 1977 Japanese film, especially on the heels of a near Oscar sweep by a 'little,â?� right-leaning Iraq war film that declared its artsiness by employing a handheld style, one must ask the question: Has indie film lost its balls?Â
William Hurt appears in this schlock piece as a vaguely Southern man with prison tats and a past. Fresh out of jail for a completely blameless offense and nursing the wounds of being driven away from his lady love (Maria Bello) by his own guilt, he hitches a ride with a couple of crazy kids 'Â Twilight's Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne as a borderline retarded but good-natured misfit. The trio sets out on a road trip to find themselves and, along the way, run over some deer, get pulled over for speeding and other Crosby-and-Hope-worthy wackiness.Â
Director Udayan Prasad (Opa!, Gabriel & Me) has somehow made a career out of these trifles ' seemingly made for film festivals ' in need of middle-of-the-road filler, and he doesn't disappoint here. There is no conflict in Yellow Handkerchief that can't be talked through reasonably, no emotional moment left unremarked upon by inspirational speeches. Even the loudest, most soul-bearing moment keeps one eye on the film's rating: 'You freakin' hypocrite! You freakin' liar,â?� screams Bello. 'You don't know a freakin' thing about my life!â?� How considerate of Prasad to keep the virgin-eared kiddies in mind while filming a scene in which the underlying tension is a miscarriage. We wouldn't want things to get too adult under those circumstances.Â
Don't get me wrong: Yellow Handkerchief is reasonably well-acted and inoffensive. But that does not excuse its pandering smiliness, not by a long shot. It's no excuse for film festivals ' from Sundance to the Middle East International Film Festival to Chicago International ' to lend it indie cred, especially considering it reportedly cost way more than The Hurt Locker.Â
More than any film in recent memory, the Yellow Handkerchief reminds me of a passage in Peter Biskind's brutal history of the '90s indie wave, Down and Dirty Pictures, in which he points out just how safe the Sundance Film Festival was pre-Soderbergh: 'Sundance had become wedded to the kind of watered-down populism that was still hanging around from the 1960s,â?� Biskind writes. 'The politically correct, regional Americana ran thinly through the veins of the 'granola' films â?¦ what Lory Smith, one of the programmers, admiringly described as 'feel-good, socially responsible' pictures. Occasionally, if a filmmaker got lucky, he might land a weathered Sam Shepard squinting into the sun while spitting tabakky through his crooked teeth and kicking cow patties at the lens with his boot.â?�Â
When something like the Yellow Handkerchief passes for festival and art-house fare, it's clear that indie film is right back where it started: in the manure.