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Meanwhile, Edward’s beloved Bella, Kristen Stewart, reveals no new tricks up her thespian sleeve in The Yellow Handkerchief, a road movie/love story about misfits in post-Katrina Louisiana. Directed by Udayan Prasad, the screenplay is credited as being loosely based on a 1971 New York Post column by Pete Hamill. But you’re more likely to recognize the central plot from an old song allegedly based on that article. Naming it would essentially spoil the movie. But it also has “yellow” in its title, and the rest of it does not contain the words “submarine” nor “rose of Texas.” Have I said too much?
No matter—there’s little to recommend The Yellow Handkerchief anyway. Stewart plays Martine, a teenager who barely has a relationship with her family and has been freshly heartbroken by a boy. Thus she decides to run off for a day with a stranger she meets in a convenience store, Gordy (Eddie Redmayne). But the odd and possibly mentally challenged Gordy makes Martine a little nervous, so she asks another stranger who’s looking for a ride, Brett (William Hurt), to go with them. Brett just got out of prison. As he later tells Martine, “You got no judgment.”
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The line just as aptly applies to Stewart herself. Apart from last year’s wistful Adventureland—and, potentially, her lead turn as Joan Jett in the upcoming The Runaways—she seems unable to extricate herself from her Bella-ness, playing Martine with her go-to mannerisms of quick bursts of exhalation and running her hands through her hair. (Though she also tries on an uneven Southern accent here.) It doesn’t help that Martine mostly acts like an idiot, from her decision to latch on to Gordy in the first place to a truly ridiculous scene in which a storm forces the trio to take refuge at a hotel. She and Gordy share a bed, and he immediately tells her that her prettiness “kind of makes me horny. I’m getting obsessed. I think it would go away if you would just kiss me once.” Normal girl’s reaction: Get the hell out of that bed. Martine’s reaction: Jump the fool, then act offended when he gets into it.
Brett’s backstory includes nearly the same situation, his with ex-wife May (Maria Bello). Yet the elder couple’s interactions, shown in flashbacks, are the truest and most interesting part of the film, and Martine’s one good instinct is trusting that Brett is a decent guy. Even if his character is a bit familiar: Hurt is pretty much a blue-collar, ex-con version of Jeff Bridges’ Crazy Heart singer, all grizzled voice and wisdom and not judgin’ or sweatin’ the small stuff. It’s an appealing performance with nothing to support it, least of all any glint of originality. It’s the South, so there’s a lot of white-hot lighting and a swampy, strings-and-harmonica soundtrack. It’s a road movie, so everyone argues, then confides in one another, then come out besties in the end. And if you can’t guess where the central, broken romance is heading, finding out is as easy as a song.