The Yellow Handkerchief

Movie review: 'Yellow Handkerchief,' with Kristen Stewart: Healing broken hearts

William Hurt, left, plays an ex-con who befriends two runaways, played by Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne, in
William Hurt, left, plays an ex-con who befriends two runaways, played by Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne, in "The Yellow Handkerchief." (Eric Lee/samuel Goldwyn Films)
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By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010

"The Yellow Handkerchief" is a love story. Two, really. At its center is the sweetly fractured ticking of a broken heart on the mend.

On one level, that sound is the score by Jack Livesey and Eef Barzelay, whose deadpan, slightly clipped instrumentation underscores the poignancy of this Louisiana-set road story about three damaged individuals, lending it -- and them -- a kind of quiet dignity.

On another, more literal level, that heart belongs to Brett Hanson (William Hurt), an ex-con just released from prison after serving six years for -- well, it's not exactly clear at first, but he doesn't seem like that bad a guy. He is, however, very, very sad about something. Brett limps through the movie like a walking bruise, seemingly wincing at the pain of being awake. Through flashbacks, we learn that the pain has something to do with a woman named May (Maria Bello). Isn't it always so?

That's not the most interesting relationship in the film.

That would be the off-kilter triangle that Brett suddenly finds himself in after accepting a lift from Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), an artistic teenage misfit with a beat-up convertible who takes beautiful photos using expired film, and Martine (Kristen Stewart), a girl who seems to be halfheartedly running away. From what? A bad boyfriend, certainly, but also from an unhappy home life. Maybe even from herself.

They're three strangers just one beat out of sync with the universe. Gordy likes Martine, but Martine isn't interested in him. She feels a stronger connection to Brett, who's old enough to be her father, but to whom she responds almost maternally. "You can cry around me, if you want," she tells him. Gordy regards Brett with a mixture of sexual jealousy and filial admiration. The latter emotion grows exponentially after Gordy learns that Brett has a criminal past.

Trust me, this isn't as creepy as it sounds.

Over the course of the movie, directed by Udayan Prasad and written by Erin Dignam based on a story by Pete Hamill, this trio of losers somehow forms a kind of loony family. Like the one in "Little Miss Sunshine," which also used the metaphor of a broken-down car to drive home its point, the interpersonal dynamics are out of whack, but not unworkable.

As these two crazy kids rumble through a landscape of bayous and seedy motels, slowly peeling away the layers of Brett's past, they not only manage to heal this forlorn father figure's broken heart, but to slowly, tentatively find each other.

*** PG-13. At Landmark's E Street Cinema and the Avalon. Contains sensuality, obscenity and violence. 96 minutes.

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