Review: ‘Lorelei’

A Thoughtful, Uneven Hard-Luck Romance Elevated By Stars Jena Malone And Pablo Schreiber

Who doesn’t love a drama about second chances? Who doesn’t love seeing career supporting actors shine in leading roles? Lorelei, a sobering, honest, and yet slightly askew working-class romance by Sabrina Doyle, gives you both of these things to powerful effect.  Jena Malone and Pablo Schreiber inject authentic emotion to former high school lovers who get a renewed shot amidst dire economic hardship.

If your first thought is “Oh God, not another miserable hard-luck indie drama”, the worry isn’t unfounded. There are far too many films like that, so many the festivals are practically bursting at the seams with them. But credit to Doyle for not going down the depressing path, but of hopefulness and personal connection, portrayed beautifully by Malone and Shreiber.

The film centers on the love story of Wayland (Schreiber), an Oregon ex-con and biker gang member recently released from prison after a 15-year sentence. After a night of hard partying (“You can’t make up for 15 years in a single night”, says pastor Gail) with his buddies, Wayland checks himself into a halfway house and starts looking for work. Options are limited for a guy just out of prison with few actual skills. It isn’t long before he sees a familiar face; Lola (Malone), his sweetheart that was left alone and heartbroken when he was sent away for armed robbery. The two immediatley pick up where they left off. The sparks fly, the old comforts of one another’s company are still fresh. But they are no longer kids. Lola is a single mother with three children from different fathers, with only her part-time maid job to support them. Shit is hard.

Doyle paints a picture of quiet desperation, as Wayland and Lola cling to one another tightly as if trying to will the past back into existence. He becomes a regular presence in her home and to her children, all named after the color blue: genderfluid Denim, rebellious middle child Perinwinkle, and the oldest, Dodger, a mixed-race boy that Wayland initially seems unable to wrap his brain around. He’s also somewhat perplexed by Denim, at first thinking the young child to be a girl. But if there’s any bigotry in Wayland it’s not brought to the surface. Despite the imposing physical figure that he strikes, Wayland is surprisingly understanding.

And perhaps there’s a reason for that. While their economic situations are both piss-poor, Wayland and Lola are not in the same place. He is getting, and taking, his chance to start anew. There’s some push-and-pull between his old criminal life, those biker gangs can be reluctant to let their members go, and the new family he’s building with Lola. On the other hand, Lola has been mired in hopelessness for years, having seen her dream of getting out and fleeing to Hollywood vanished in a string of bad relationships and unplanned pregnancies.

In Wayland, Doyle keenly observes our idea of masculinity in the poverty class, as he struggles to be a provider for more than just himself. Schreiber, an intimidating presence who nevertheless projects a certain sensitivity, brings these necessary qualities to his performance. Malone is also extraordinary as Lola, shifting between youthful spiritedness and world-weary mother from one scene to the next. When Lorelei puts its focus on the contours of Doyle and Lola’s relationship, it truly soars.

Separately, there’s an imbalance in perspective. Doyle is joined by producers of The Florida Project, and at times Lorelei feels like a spinoff of that acclaimed film in its exploration of America’s struggling poor. It’s Wayland’s familiar “ex-con makes good” story that gets the bulk of the attention and nuance, even though it’s Lola’s pursuit to reclaim what was lost that is far more interesting. A sudden escapade to Los Angeles, where Lola has fled to start a new life as a dive bar mermaid, puts such distance between the two leads that Lorelei flounders to recover. Fortunately, such a thoughtful, open-hearted film with stars the caliber of Malone and Schreiber proves just as resilient as its tough-luck characters and doesn’t stay down for long.

Lorelei is available now in theaters and VOD.

Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.