‘The Yellow Handkerchief': A Sundance Review

Few things are as powerful to watch with a crowd as a romantic film that sets the waterworks flowing all around. And when actors William Hurt, Kristen Stewart and Maria Bello came to Sundance to unspool “The Yellow Handkerchief” Friday, the majority of the crowd found themselves wishing they had some hankies of their own.

Directed by acclaimed Indian filmmaker Udayan Prasad, the film plays like “The Notebook” — if James Garner’s character had been convicted murderer. Following two generations of troubled lovers, it aims to appeal to both a teenage audience and their parents.

The flick kicks off with an intense, tattooed Hurt being released from a Southern prison after a six-year sentence for manslaughter. Without a friend or purpose, he soon finds himself intrigued by a teenage girl (Stewart) and the quirky wanderer (Eddie Redmayne) who won’t take her “no” for an answer.

Drawn to the duo and seeking to move on to the next town, the gruff convict hops a ride with the young’uns and they form an unlikely bond while driving to New Orleans. Peripherally addressing the Katrina aftermath, the indie was shot over several years in Louisiana, and fashions a powerful love letter to the city.

By the end, the questions are whether Stewart’s love-hate tension with Redmayne’s goofball will blossom into something more, and if Hurt’s persistent, pained flashbacks to Maria Bello will yield a happy ending.

During a Q & A following the Friday screening at Eccles Theater, Bello said: “It’s a long, hard road to the truth … you have to work hard before you get to that truthful place.”

Added Hurt: “Sometimes, it was incredibly uncomfortable on the day (we’d film a scene), but I’m proud now.”
Judging by the crowd’s heartfelt response, he has reason to be. Unfortunately, the film does drag at times, and isn’t likely to pull in “Notebook”-like box-office, despite a solid ending that makes it all worthwhile.

“Handkerchief” best serves Hurt (excelling in another villain role) and Redmayne — whose British theater background underscored the skill in his portrayal of a freckle-faced, dorky American teen. In fact, if there were two words being thrown around in the lobby after the film, they were “Redmayne” and “breakout.”

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