Every now and then, if you’re lucky, you will come across a film that will completely floor you. They’re few and far between, a rare delicacy in an industry that spits out spectacle-filled sequels and remakes several times a year. Sabrina Doyle’s feature film debut Lorelei is exactly that rarity, a film so pure and truthful, it will leave you feeling curiously empty while also filled with hope.
Wayland Beckett (Pablo Schreiber) has just finished a 15-year-sentence for armed robbery and is adjusting back to life on the outside. He comes across his old flame Dolores (Jena Malone), who is now a single mother of three children, the first which she had soon after Wayland was locked up. The two lovers attempt to reconnect and rekindle their flame, but both are struggling with the constricts of their small town and their changed dynamics.
Lorelei effortlessly switches between being hypnotic and dream-like, and a brutally honest depiction of an American small-town working class. Nothing here is sugar-coated, nor criticised, just studied through a blue-hued lens of sobering reality. Doyle’s style is reminiscent of Debra Granik’s: her camera observes rather than intervenes and emphasis is placed on the smallest of moments, such as how Wayland revels under Dolores’ touch after being alone for so long.
Pablo Schreiber, possibly best known for playing ‘Pornstache’ in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black gives a career-defining performance here. Wayland is as flawed a character as they come, but Schreiber makes him compelling by capturing just how overwhelming life can be for an ex-convict. His layered performance is emotionally stripped and hauntingly sincere even at its uglier moments. Schreiber communicates much with the smallest glance or a carefully chosen silence and while details of Wayland’s crime are never fully revealed, the character has a hefty feel of history to him.
Schreiber’s chemistry with Jena Malone feels effortless, almost breathless in its acuteness as the couple try to make up for lost time and find what once made them invincible. Malone injects her role with charm and free-spirited fun, which is laced with hardship and regret, playing a mother stuck in a life she never envisioned for herself. Dolores is a firecracker, a loose cannon that could blow at any moment, but Malone beautifully walks the fine line between making Dolores someone we pity and someone we relate to.
Equally impressive are Chancellor Perry, Amelia Borgerding and Parker Pascoe-Sheppard who play Dolores’ children - Dodger, Periwinkle and Denim - each of them named after a shade of blue. Wayland is thrust into being a make-shift father to these children, who aren’t his but should have been as Wayland hopes to rekindle the connection he shared with Dolores before going to prison. Schreiber convincingly alternates between being a warm father figure and way out of his depth with the children, each with their somehow chaotic, but unique personality.
The element that doesn’t quite work is the film’s treatment of race. It’s there, but never fully addressed or explored meaningfully. Wayland’s relationship with Dolores’ oldest son Dodger - who is biracial - is strained, but we never really find out why. It feels a little out of place and separate from the rest of the narrative, but thankfully never malicious.
Ultimately, Lorelei is a film about walls, the ones we’re born within fighting to break out of and the ones we create ourselves, to keep others at bay and us protected. Doyle’s filmmaking is disarmingly honest and even when the narrative feels a little familiar, her impressive cast keep things compelling and emotionally resonant. It’s a film that captures working class life and financial struggles authentically, never forgetting the simple pleasures of karaoke or hopping on a swing at nightfall with a cigarette hanging from your mouth. Lorelei’s moving depiction of hope, affection and its firm belief in second, third, maybe even fourth chances in life are enough to make your heart soar.
Lorelei was set to have its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival.