A man has spent 15 years in prison. On the day of his release, his friends take him out, get him loaded, and drop him off at the local church that will house him until he gets his feet under him. The terms of his stay at the church are simple: Three hours of chores and a promise to find gainful employment and long-term housing. Those last two are hard to come by in this town. Not that it matters much, because the church is hosting a care night for single mothers, and one of the attendees is the girl he left behind when he was locked up all those years ago.

He is Wayland (Pablo Schreiber), a low-level drug-runner for the local gang. She is Dolores (Jena Malone), a housekeeper and mother of three. In high school, they were in love. They were supposed to ditch their small Washington village and head to Los Angeles, but Wayland got caught, and life got in the way. Now both want to pick up where they left off, except that Wayland’s options are limited, and Dolores has three mouths to feed: Dodger (Chancellor Perry), Periwinkle (Amelia Borgerding), and Denim (Parker Pascoe-Sheppard). All named after varying shades of blue, and all fathered by different men. “Time goes fast,” she says. “Not in prison,” he replies.

Parker Pascoe-Sheppard, Jena Malone, Amelia Borgerding, Chancellor Perry in Lorelei. Images courtesy Vertical Entertainment.

At times, Lorelei, from first-time writer/director Sabrina Doyle, plays like a Bob Dylan song: The metaphors may be obvious, but they connect. Other times, Lorelei feels like a rote look at the lives of the depressed. This movie seethes resentment. Dolores resents Wayland going to prison and taking her dreams with him. Wayland resents the club he took one for. Dolores’ children resent being poor and fatherless. And Wayland resents these kids, particularly Dodger, whose father is Black, and Denim, who prefers his sister’s clothes to his own. Naturally, these are the two he will develop a bond with.

Credit goes to Doyle for not making more out of these scenes, allowing them to simmer rather than boil over. Schreiber, who stoically lumbers through the motions, is mostly convincing, but it’s Malone who shows that believability need not intersect with realism. There’s a choice her character makes that sets the third act in motion. You buy it because she’s spent the whole movie selling it.

But the real credit goes to the children, first-times all three, who lend credence to Lorelei. Cinematographer Stephen Paar makes everything in the frame look damp, and production designer Marissa Leguizamon clutters the frame to the point you can almost smell the mold growing in the corner. But it’s the kids that make you care. Without them, Lorelei would just be a portrait of sad people who couldn’t make anything out of their sad lives.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Lorelei (2020)
Written and directed by Sabrina Doyle
Produced by Kevin Chinoy, Jennifer Radzikowski, Francesca Silvestri
Starring: Jena Malone, Pablo Schreiber, Chancellor Perry, Parker Pascoe-Sheppard, Amelia Borgerding
Vertical Entertainment, Not rated, Running time 111 minutes, Opens in limited release and On Demand July 30, 2021.

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