Wendy: Benh Zeitlin’s Sophomore Jinx, Misfire after Beasts of the Southern Wild

Wendy, Benh Zeitlin’s re-imagining of J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” is based on a screenplay by him and Eliza Zeitlin.

Wendy poster.jpg

Theatrical release post

Grade: C (*1/2 out of *****)

The film stars Devin France, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin, Ahmad Cage, Krzysztof Meyn, and Romyri Ross.

World premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Fest to negative reviews, Wendy was released on February 28 by Searchlight Pictures.

30 Best Films of the Decade, 2010-2019—Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild–Impressive Directing Debut

Angela Darling works as a waitress at Darling’s Diner near a railroad in the rural South, while her young children, twins James and Douglas and youngest daughter Wendy, are hanging around there.

Thomas Marshall is jokingly told by his grandmother that he and Angela’s children will be working at the diner when they grow up. Insisting that he’ll be a pirate, Thomas goes outside at the thought of having to get older and work. A train passes by, and a figure on the roof gets Thomas to climb onto the train.

Years later, Wendy, now 9, shows thirst for adventure and comes up with her own bedtime stories to read to herself, despite assisting her mother at the diner.

One night, Angela tells them how she gave up on her dreams to raise a family, making Wendy wonder whether she will have to give up her own dreams as a grown-up. After school, Wendy contemplates boarding the train, but fails to do so when she chases it.

Many years later, Wendy, now a mother with a daughter, tells the story of Peter and the island. At night, while Wendy sleeps, her daughter hops on the train with Peter. Wendy begins running after them, but then she stops, feeling that her daughter is ready for adventures of her own.


30 Best Films of the Decade, 2010-2019—Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild–Impressive Directing Debut

It took eight years for the gifted Zeitlin to make a follow up to his striking debut, Beasts of the Southern Wild, which earned Oscar nominations in major categories.  Expectation were therefore high, and the end result is vastly disappointing–truly a sophomore jinx–not unlike what “Kafka” was to Soderbergh as a follow-up to his splashy debut, “sex, lies, and videotape.” While daring to be innovative and tell an overly familiar story from a different angle, Zeitlin has made a narrative that is too stiff and emotionally uninvolving, with some interesting images interspersed throughout.

Searchlight should take a major loss the theatrical release of this indie, which cost a considerable amount ($6 million), though the movie should do better on DVD and ancillary markets.


Devin France as Wendy
Yashua Mack as Peter
Gage Naquin as Douglas
Gavin Naquin as James
Ahmad Cage as Sweet Heavy
Krzysztof Meyn as Thomas
Romyri Ross as Cudjoe Head
Lowell Landes as Buzzo
Kevin Pugh as Adult James
Shay Walker as Angela Darling
Tommie Milazzo as Baby Wendy


Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Produced by Becky Glupczynski, Dan Janvey, Paul Mezey, Josh Penn
Screenplay by Benh Zeitlin and Eliza Zeitlin, based on Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
Music by Dan Romer
Cinematography Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
Edited by Affonso Gonçalves
Production companies: TSG Entertainment, Department of Motion Pictures, Journeyman Pictures
Distributed by Searchlight Pictures
Release date: January 26, 2020 (Sundance Fest); February 28, 2020 (US)
Running time 112 minutes