No need to pull out this ‘Handkerchief’ 

With its overall humanism and its exceptional lead performance, “The Yellow Handkerchief” is a promising indie film whose success you keep rooting for even when its plot is faltering and its sentimentality dispensers get excessive with contrivances and goo.

Eventually, genuine uplift gives way to artificial sunshine, and hope to frustration. Unless your tolerance for syrup is off the charts, you’ll likely be unable to embrace this movie.

Directed by Udayan Prasad, scripted by Erin Dignam and loosely based on a story by Pete Hamill, the film takes the form of an impressive romantic drama subordinated by a middling road tale.

The themes include second chances and, echoing Prasad’s worthy “My Son the Fanatic,” finding your place and purpose in the thicket of things. 

The setting is post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana, land of bayous, boatyards, gators, rebirth and post-trauma.

Brett (William Hurt), a taciturn middle-aged ex-con with a large mustache and regret-filled eyes, accepts a ride to New Orleans with two young strangers — restless 15-year-old Martine (Kristen Stewart) and misfit-with-wheels Gordy (Eddie Redmayne) — and soon is spinning the story of his bungled life to his traveling companions.

His accounts, presented in flashback, involve a rocky relationship with his ex-wife, May (Maria Bello), and the incidents that led to six years in prison.

This small film contains some significant rewards, including Prasad’s tone of lazy humanity and quiet charm, and cinematographer Chris Menges’ gorgeous presentation of bayou country, for starters.

Most noteworthy is Hurt, who delivers a powerful and captivatingly multifaceted portrait of how personal weaknesses and rotten circumstances can cause a decent individual to down-spiral into destructiveness.

His scenes with Bello, who works magic with her sketchily defined character, make for a gripping picture of a meaningful relationship ruined by mistakes and distrust.

Unfortunately, the Brett-May material accounts for less than half of the movie. The dominant component is the road trip, and it’s less satisfying.

The constant shifting between past and present, is — as in “Julie & Julia” or “Definitely, Maybe” — contrived and irksome.

Redmayne and the pre-“Twilight” Stewart lack the experience necessary to give their characters the dimension Hurt and Bello achieve.

Worst is the treatment of whether May will take Brett back. This sends the story into irremediably maudlin terrain.

All said, you can hold (or at least go skimpy on) the hankies. The film is an uneven ride that blows its chances of being seriously affecting.


The Yellow Handkerchief

Two and a half stars

Starring William Hurt, Maria Bello, Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne
Written by Erin Dignam
Directed by Udayan Prasad
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour 36 minutes

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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