The Yellow Handkerchief: who came up with that? There is nothing stimulating about that title. I could forgive it if this so-called yellow handkerchief had a defining moment in the film, but no. In fact, the yellow handkerchief’s 15 seconds of fame could have been easily replaced by something much bolder. Just like the unnecessary inclusion of the hanky, director Udayan Prasad makes his film tiresome by searching for meaning in vague places when the film works best in its simplicity.
After spending six years in jail, Brett Hanson (William Hurt) returns to civilization. With no one to greet him at the prison gates, he drifts along and into a quaint town for no other reason but to enjoy the long lost taste of an ice-cold beer. In an effort to escape her own troubles, Martine (Kristen Stewart) takes an opportunity to hitch a ride with a complete stranger, a rather slow young guy named Gordy (Eddie Redmayne). The trio of strangers randomly decide to venture off on a scenic tour of post-Katrina Louisiana, heading straight for New Orleans.
Apparently Martine never got the don’t-take-candy-from-strangers lecture, because she puts herself in a dangerous position from the moment the movie starts. First off, her very first encounter with Gordy is not one that would make you think, ‘Hey, he looks like a nice guy to drive off into the sunset with.’ He has a knack for making people uncomfortable and obsessively reminds anyone and everyone that he’s of Native American descent. To top it off, she invites a much older man, whom she knows nothing about (including his ex-con status) to come along. Even Gordy points out the obvious concern that despite Brett’s peaceful demeanor, he could indeed be a serial killer.
But once you get over the peculiarity of the situation, The Yellow Handkerchief boasts in a number of moving moments. Martine has her underaged eye on Brett, but Gordy grows increasingly desperate to get close to Martine himself. Luckily for Gordy, her infatuation with Brett simply stems from daddy issues. Eventually his awkward charm overshadows his strange behavior and the two develop a uniquely sweet relationship. Unfortunately, you’re constantly removed from the budding romance by Brett’s flashbacks. Of course Brett needs a storyline too, but it takes far too long to weed out the artsy quick cuts and truly understand the complicated situation between him and his one true love, May (Maria Bello). Prasad’s attempt to show Brett’s past in an escalating manner fails because the early stages are shown in much too small doses. The moments work on an individual level but don’t connect to relay the intensity of their connection until it’s too late. Martine and Gordy’s relationship becomes the stronger source of entertainment and engagement from the start, making the one between Brett and May more of an annoyance.
This lack of interest drowns Hurt and Bello’s performances. He mumbles throughout the film and she throws unjustified temper tantrums. Stewart and Redmayne, on the other hand, are as authentic as they come. Martine doesn’t seem like the smartest girl right off the bat, but Stewart manages to transform that flakiness into a multilayered character who makes frustratingly thoughtless decisions but ultimately earns compassion. Yes, Martine is just another angry teenage role for Stewart to add to her resume, but she has an unusual spark about her that makes her especially interesting. Redmayne is a winner from every angle. He’s infuriatingly naive when it comes to courting Martine, yet will win any viewer’s heart instantly. The character himself is likable, but Redmayne gives him the awkward sweetness that makes you pull for him more so than for the others.
Ultimately, however, The Yellow Handkerchief is going nowhere. Three strangers hop in a car with no clear goal, making it difficult to keep your attention on the events unfolding. But after struggling through the duller segments, you find the gems like Martine and Gordy’s relationship as well as the beautiful simplicity of the cinematography. Just as the relationships at the core of this drama, The Yellow Handkerchief is one big compromise. Make do with the lackluster parts and receive something uniquely pleasant.