In “Lorelei”, the feature film debut for writer and director Sabrina Doyle, an ex-con, a single mother, and three children form the backbone of this blue-collar story set in the Pacific Northwest. On the surface it’s an unconventional family drama about people trying to find their way individually and together. But underneath it’s a movie about pressing forward and not being anchored to the past.
The movie opens as a man named Wayland (Pablo Schreiber) is getting out of prison after serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery. After a night of boozing with his biker buddies Wayland checks into a halfway house ran by the amiable Pastor Gail (Trish Egan). Shortly after, he bumps into his old girlfriend Delores (Jenna Malone) and the two quickly reconnect. We learn that they were high school sweethearts and had big plans together. “We were something, me and you,” she laments.
But instead of moving to Los Angeles and spending their life together, Wayland went to prison and Delores went through a rough patch of her own. Now he’s an ex-con and she’s a struggling single mother of three working as a housekeeper at a rundown motel. But they still share a mutual affection and soon Wayland has moved in with Delores and her three children (played with stunning authenticity by first-time performers Amelia Borgerding, Parker Pascoe-Sheppard, and Chancellor Perry). It feels like a recipe for disaster and an arrangement doomed to fail.
Thankfully Doyle writes textured characters who are firmly grounded in the real world. They don’t fit any conventional mold so we’re never sure how things are going to turn out. She doesn’t gloss over their flaws or sugarcoat their failures. In fact, it’s impossible to condone some of the choices her characters make. But at the same time Doyle gives us glimmers of hope – faint and often hard to recognize, but hope nonetheless.
Also, Doyle’s story dodges many of the trappings that often come with this type of subject matter. “Lorelei” could have easily been just another small town tragedy. And while there are tragic elements, the movie digs deeper into real-world experiences that many will relate too. It’s all strengthened by Doyle’s working-class roots which gives her a clear-eyed perspective into the struggles of economically depressed communities and those drowning under the poverty line. There is a palpable realism in the situations her characters face and the choices the make feel natural.
While “Lorelei” plays like an authentic slice of life, dramatically it stays on slow simmer. Nothing about it feels false, not the characters or their stories. But it more or less stays in one gear. And it introduces several compelling supporting players, but (with a couple of exceptions) few of them are given more than a scene, two at the max. But in fairness to Doyle, she has a very specific story she’s telling and her laser-sharp focus on that story is what makes the movie tick. It looks great and the performances are terrific. But it’s Doyle’s grounded true-to-life perspective that gives “Lorelei” its pulse. “Lorelei” is now showing in select theaters and on VOD July 30th.