This one comes at the request of my father, who heard about Lorelei from a friend of his in the makeup department. Of course I’m always happy to check out a film set and shot in my neck of the woods, and I’m happy to report that the makeup looked… I mean, it was okay. I’m no expert, but it looked perfectly fine for a movie without any noteworthy makeup effects. Except maybe for those last few minutes, but that scene was set and shot in Los Angeles (and also a bar in Sacramento), so it probably wasn’t Claire. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The film opens as Wayland (played by exec-producer Pablo Schreiber) gets out of prison after serving fifteen years for armed robbery. I might add that Wayland is part of a biker gang and he took a plea bargain to keep one of his fellow bikers out of prison. Anyway, Wayland is sent back to his native hometown (some unnamed podunk town, very likely somewhere in the Clackamas/Marion County area, where the film was shot) to live in a halfway home in the basement of a church.
Trouble is, it’s only a temporary arrangement until Wayland can find a steady job and a place to live. This despite the fact that Wayland doesn’t know how to operate a computer or a website built in the last fifteen years. And the fact that he’s been in prison since he was fresh out of high school, so he has no employment history. And it looks like he’s in a town with a population in the triple digits, so good luck finding a place that’s offering a job with a living wage.
Enter Dolores, aka Lola (Jena Malone, another exec-producer). She and Wayland are old high school flames, and he’s surprised to learn that she’s now a single mother of three kids from three different fathers. The oldest is Dodger Blue (Chancellor Perry), your typical moody teenager who vapes and works out and listens to music and talks shit with his friends because there’s nothing else to do. There’s also Periwinkle Blue (Amelia Borgerding), tempestuous and mercurial as your typical 13-year-old girl. Last but not least is Denim Blue (Parker Pascoe-Sheppard), a six-year-old who’s very likely a trans girl in the early stages of figuring that out.
The bottom line is that Wayland needs a place to live, Lola needs help looking after her kids, and the both of them would have an easier time in a two-income household. (And statistically speaking, looking after a family lowers the chances of recidivism, so there’s that.) Thus the two of them rekindle their romance and Wayland moves in, just as he lands a part-time job in a local scrapyard.
That might sound like everything’s coming up roses. It isn’t.
To start with, Wayland and Lola are each only working a part-time job, and frustratingly unable to get more hours or better wages. Wayland himself is an ex-convict on parole, under the constant threat of going back to prison if he makes the wrong mistake. And there’s a lot of temptation to do that, as Wayland’s criminal buddies are perfectly eager to take him back into the fold and make sure he’s taken care of, while the “civilized” town of Bumfuck, OR, is giving him jack.
There’s also the matter of Lola’s kids. All three of them have seen their mom with countless new boyfriends, and they have no reason to think Wayland won’t be gone within a week like all the rest. On that note, let’s take a step back.
On the one hand is Wayland’s biker gang, who clearly and explicitly state that they’re a family and they all look out for each other. On the other hand is Lola and her kids, who gradually come to love and depend on him as a surrogate father figure, despite (or perhaps because of) how utterly broken their home is. And lest we forget, all three kids are only half-siblings and Wayland has no blood relation with any of them.
(Side note: There is an early question as to whether Wayland might be Dodger’s biological father. Without getting into details, and though we never learn exactly how Dodger was conceived, it’s quickly made pretty darn obvious that Wayland couldn’t possibly be the father.)
Given this setup, of course the film has a lot to say about the nature of family. I might add that in the script and in the performances, all three kids are elegantly developed, with baggage and arguments and affectionate moments that are all beautifully realized. Moreover, Wayland’s development arc into an unwitting yet halfway capable father figure is sweetly delivered, and that makes his various moral dilemmas all the more poignant.
Even so, the fact remains that Wayland’s arrival is a huge shift for Lola and her kids. Sure, Lola doesn’t have to deal with quite as much of the stress she had as a single parent, but her role as a co-parent isn’t quite as clear-cut anymore. What’s worse, now that she and Wayland are sharing in a two-income household, Lola’s overtaken by the feeling that her kids should have a better quality of life, even though she and Wayland are still nowhere near capable of meeting her raised expectations.
Yes, this film has a lot to say about how the system is rigged against ex-convicts, to the point where they’re all but guaranteed to relapse and go back to prison. Yes, the film has a lot to say about how the system is rigged against poor people, and especially against single mothers. Yet both are really just different angles to examine a very different subject.
Remember, Wayland and Lola were lovers back when they were in high school. They had all these grand plans about how Lola was going to be an Olympic swimmer and they were going to run away to find their Happily Ever After in Los Angeles. Instead, Wayland spent his entire adult life in prison while Lola slept around and popped out three kids she had to raise on her own. In both cases, there’s a sense that their youth was taken from them. Both of them lost fifteen years’ worth of dreams and youth and happiness that they’re never getting back.
Wayland and Lola are both upset with how things played out, and disappointed that their childhood dreams never came to pass. It’s hard to blame them, especially when their prospects for the future look so shitty. Then again, there’s a very real possibility that the both of them are so hung up on the past that building a future together becomes outright impossible.
This brings me to the mermaid motif. Yes, throughout the entire movie, in ways both small and explicit, Lola keeps repeatedly bringing up the ocean and her history as a swimmer, and so on and so forth. I was particularly fond of the mermaid drawings that Lola keeps in her bathroom. Yet for how prominent the mermaid motif was from start to finish, it never really amounted to anything concrete… until those last five minutes.
Without getting too far into the weeds, the mermaids are a fantasy. Yes, they are in fact a literal fantasy in that they are fictional creatures who frequently appear in dream sequences. But more than that, mermaids are here used (in spectacularly brilliant and creative fashion, might I add) to represent the transformation into the characters’ ideal version of themselves. Mermaids represent all the beauty and freedom that the characters ever wished to attain, despite or maybe even because of all the sacrifices made along the way.
What’s more, the ocean itself is used as a symbol of freedom. The financial problems and hardships imposed by society are all troubles on land — those are all absent from the calm, quiet, neverending void of the ocean. In point of fact, one or two dream sequences call to mind the sensation of curling up and floating inside a womb.
In summary, yes, this serious character drama uses a mermaid motif to argue that life really is better Under the Sea.
So are there any nitpicks? Oh, yeah. Quite a few.
For how much I love those last five minutes, it does leave some aggravating loose ends. In point of fact, the back half has some serious accountability problems. It’s briefly mentioned that Lola is way behind on rent, and nothing comes of it. Wayland’s parole officer (played by Josef Bertot) talks a big game about how he’s such a hardass, but he proves to be entirely toothless. Wayland should be torn between his newfound surrogate family and the battle-tested allegiance to his biker gang, but that conflict is resolved far too easily. And without getting too deep into spoilers, Wayland and Lola both pull some horrible shit that the both of them should get in much, MUCH deeper trouble for.
On a final note, of course I have to talk about the Portland connection. I was especially amused to see Wayland wearing a T-shirt for The Sandy Hut, exactly the kind of veritable Portland institution that Wayland would frequent. Even better, there are quite a few scenes in which Wayland wears a T-shirt for Dave’s Killer Bread. That is so impeccably perfect on so many levels, I can’t even begin to categorize them here. My hat’s off to Critter Pierce for the inspired costume design.
(Side note: Though I don’t know Critter Pierce personally, I was able to confirm that she is indeed a local Portlander. Trust me, it’s obvious just looking at the film.)
Next up, I swear to Bud Clark’s ghost that Dana Millican has to be in every single movie and/or TV show set and shot in Portland. At least she gets an extended speaking cameo this time, and a chance at being genuinely funny. I was also pleased and surprised to see my old friend Gretchen Corbett show up — likewise, her appearance is brief yet comical. I was glad to see Yolanda Porter get a small bit part (seriously, Yolanda is too gorgeous and talented for how little work she gets).
Still, the star of the supporting cast is probably Trish Egan, here playing Pastor Gail. I don’t recall meeting her personally, but we have a great many mutual friends in the local theatre scene and her name seems to pop up quite a bit. Anyway, she does a fantastic job here, in the role of a loving yet supportive pillar of support for Wayland. She’s an authority figure who’s firm but never overbearing, acting as a moral arbiter without ever coming off as preachy. Outstanding work.
Overall, I found Lorelei to be a sweet little character drama. It’s overflowing with heart, the film is a fantastic vehicle for Schreiber and Malone, and I loved the various themes at play, even if the film could’ve used another five or ten minutes to wrap up some nagging plot threads. Still, considering that this is the debut feature for writer/director Sabrina Doyle, this one leaves me anxious to see what Doyle can do if (hopefully when) she’s given the chance to really hit her stride.
This is absolutely a film worth seeking out and supporting.