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Jena Malone, Pablo Schreiber

“LORELEI” My rating: B 

111 minutes | No MPAA rating

A shroud of been-there-done-that is draped around “Lorelei,” the feature writing/directing debut of Sabrina Doyle. At times the film seems to have been assembled from leftover parts of other movies.

But the show has been magnificently anchored by Pablo Schreiber and Jena Malone, performers who usually get supporting roles but here waste no time in seizing the material and making the most of it. In the end, they put “Lorelei” across the finish line.

The film opens with Wayland (Schreiber) leaving prison after a 15-year sentence for armed robbery. He’s met at the gates by members of his old motorcycle gang; by keeping quiet and taking the fall he spared his buddies jail time.

Now he returns to his small town in rural Oregon, moving into a church-run halfway house.  But it’s all too clear that he could easily slide back into his old criminal ways; moreover, the tough-love preacher who is housing him (Trish Egan) and his parole officer (Joseph Bertot) aren’t about to cut him much slack. They’ve seen too many ex cons return to stir.

And then Wayland  spots Dolores (Malone) attending the church’s support group for single moms.  He and Dolores were high school lovers, and after some tentative verbal sparing (the film’s sexual subtext could raise blisters) they pick up where they left off.

Well, sorta.  Dolores seems to have spent the last 15 years sleeping around. She has three kids by three different men; she gets by with a part-time gig changing sheets at a sleazy motel and collecting welfare.

So while she’s at work the reluctant Wayland is forced into the role of father figure.

Yeah, it’s a familiar narrative. Practically a cliche.

On one level “Lorelei” is a brutally honest examination of desperate love among the struggling class.  The pleasure Wayland and Delores take in each other is infectious; at the same time it is diluted by the constant battle  to survive and the daily indignities of poverty.

But Doyle’s screenplay should be called for excessive wokeness.  Dolores’ oldest child (Chancellor Perry) is mixed race; the middle kid (Amelia Borgerding) is a furiously angry tweener; the youngest (Parker Pascoe-Sheppard) is clearly trans.

Lets see…are there any hot-button social issues we’ve left out?

But here’s the thing: It works. I got caught up in the love story and the family dynamic…so much so that not even a wildly improbable third act development (it’ll explain where the title “Lorelei” comes from) could dilute my pleasure.

Whatever Doyle’s shortcomings as a scenarist, she shows terrific control as a director.

In the end “Lorelei” emerges as a flawed but deeply felt piece of humanistic cinema, heart-tugging without sticky sentimentality.

| Robert W. Butler

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