Yellow Handkerchief, The: Road Trip Movie

By Brendan Twist


“The Yellow Handkerchief” is an odd road trip movie, which forgoes montages and a hip soundtrack in favor of quiet conversation and pregnant glances. Udayan Prasad’s film, loosely based on the 1971 Pete Hamill short story “Going Home,” follows an unlikely trio of outsiders, cruising through rural Louisiana with little agenda and plenty of emotional baggage.  They are all lonely individuals, down on their luck, but they are decent folk and good-natured.  Unfortunately, for all its modest charms, the film mirrors its subjects in that it never goes much of anywhere.


Produced by Arthur Cohn, the movie received its world premiere at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres section and will be released at the end of the year.


At the heart of “Yellow Handkerchief” is Brett (William Hurt), a laconic, middle-aged badass, who sports a jean jacket, tattoos, and a moustache that commands respect.  Hurt deftly captures the dual essence of Brett, a man simultaneously affable and intimidating; when he’s not wrangling gators or punching out windows, his speech is measured, his smile gentle and slight.




As the movie begins, Brett steps out of prison following a six-year sentence and steps into an old convertible with Martine and Gordy, a couple of angsty, hormonal teenagers. It’s chance that brings these three strangers together one hot afternoon. 




Kristen Stewart (the star of the youth romance “Twilight”) plays Martine, and much as she did in her hit vampire feature, she imbues her character with attitude and intrigue, even when the script does not.  Gordy (Eddie Redmayne) is nervous and spastic. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have unusually wide shoulders and a small, tapering waist,” he says, a goofy grin transfixed on his face, as he models a new coat.




As they set out on their journey to no place in particular, the crew exhibits a comforting warmness. They are cute together, awkward, and their banter and bickering holds a tranquil allure, even as it turns to abandonment issues, which it often does.  The characters are endearing, well-meaning and well-acted enough to make them very attractive traveling partners.




One assumes, however, that “something” will eventually happen to them, and it’s the plot (and the way the plot’s conveyed) that gives the film its major trouble.  The true meat of the storyline, involving Brett and a lost love named May (Maria Bello), takes place before he was incarcerated, and is relayed through a cumbersome flashback device.  The story of Brett and May, a beautiful, weathered woman, is a good one, touching and sad.  It is also quite straightforward.  The flashbacks, however, which appear with increasing frequency until they become the primary source of action, needlessly convolute the saga of their relationship, perhaps in an effort to compensate for the narrative’s simplicity.




Also of concern is the near total absence of action back in the present day. These characters do little more than talk and drive during their time together. Admittedly, some of their conversations are quite lovely.  It’s enjoyable to watch as their bond of friendship forms and they grow to trust one another.  But they have very few actual experiences on their trek–at least, very few that appear to impact them in a meaningful way. They stay at a roach motel; they hit a deer.  The drama of the film seems better suited to the confinements of a stage set than to the lush, wide expanses of the Louisiana countryside.




I found myself wondering how the gang might react, were they to stop at some tacky roadside attraction; or how they’d be affected by a run-in with their version of Large Marge, that notorious truck driver, or George Hansen, the drunken ACLU lawyer. I admit, those may be the words of my inner road trip movie fan–but even so, these characters could’ve grown so much more if they’d had some significant interaction with people outside their little circle.




That said, the insulated nature of the narrative, frustrating as it is at times, does underscore the connection formed between the characters; this movie is very much about friendship.  And if that sounds cutesy and light, well, it is. Although the film’s mood begins to shift from contemplative to melancholic around the midway point, the picture never becomes more serious than its story warrants.  That was probably a wise decision on the part of Prasad and the screenwriter, Eric Dignam, because light as it may be at times, “The Yellow Handkerchief” is neither frivolous nor trivial.



Brett – William Hurt
May – Maria Bello
Martine – Kristen Stewart
Gordy – Eddie Redmayne

Camera: Chris Menges.
Editor: Christopher Tellesen.
Music: Eef Barzelay.
Production designer: Monroe Kelly.
Costume designer: Caroline Eselin.
Sound: Jeffrey E. Haupt.
Running time: 102 Minutes.