Review: ‘Lorelei’ (2021), starring Pablo Schreiber and Jena Malone

August 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jena Malone and Pablo Schreiber in “Lorelei” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Lorelei” (2021)

Directed by Sabrina Doyle

Culture Representation: Taking place in Oregon and briefly in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “Lorelei” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After serving 15 years in prison for armed robbery, a recently released ex-convict reconnects with his high school sweetheart, who is now a single mother of three children, and they have challenges as he tries to get his life back on track. 

Culture Audience: “Lorelei” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in realistic dramas about ex-convicts and about working-class Americans who are living right on the edge of poverty.

Parker Pascoe-Sheppard, Jena Malone, Amelia Borgerding and Chancellor Perry in “Lorelei” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The reason for the title of the dramatic film “Lorelei” isn’t revealed until the last 10 minutes of the movie. Until then, viewers are taken on a roller coaster ride of a relationship between an ex-con and his former girlfriend, who reunite after he gets out of prison. It’s a well-acted portrait of forgiveness, trust and how emotional stakes can be high when people with troubled pasts are given a chance at redemption.

“Lorelei” is an impressive feature-film debut by writer/director Sabrina Doyle, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who is originally from England. She’s made a very authentic-looking movie about working-class life in the United States that presents an unvarnished but empathetic view of what it means to be one or two paychecks away from poverty. “Lorelei” takes place in an unnamed city in Oregon, but the struggles shown in the movie are reflective of what millions of people around the world can and do experience in similar circumstances.

The movie’s title suggests that the story’s main protagonist is a woman. However, “Lorelei” is actually told from the point of view of a man named Wayland Beckett (played by Pablo Schreiber), a member of a biker gang who has recently been released from prison, after serving 15 years for armed robbery. (Schreiber is best-known to TV audiences as a former co-star of the motorcycle gang drama series “Sons of Anarchy.”)

Wayland was in his late teens when he went to prison for this crime. Now in his early 40s, Wayland has to find a way to adjust to life outside prison when so much of the outside world has changed. When he walks out of prison, he’s greeted by several members of his biker buddies, who then throw a bonfire party for him to celebrate his release from prison.

Luckily for Wayland, he has a place to live after his prison release. He’s staying at a spare room at a church, where in exchange for free room and board, he has agreed to do regular chores and maintenance for the church. His living situation is much like a halfway house, because he has to abide by the rules set by his supervisor at the church: Pastor Gail (played by Trish Egan), who tells Wayland that she’s also available to him for counseling.

“You know I don’t believe in God, right?” Wayland asks Pastor Gail. She replies, “That’s okay. Just stay out of jail.” The rules are pretty simple: No drugs, no alcohol and no illegal activity on the premises. Unlike the rules at a typical halfway house, this church does not make Wayland have a curfew.

Pastor Gail is involved in a lot of charity work, such as food donations to underprivileged people. At the church, she also leads meetings for people dealing with various issues, but the meetings come with a certain amount of religious lecturing. Wayland comments to Pastor Gail in a teasing tone of voice, “The problem with do-gooders is that nobody likes them.” Pastor Gail replies, “I never gave a shit about being liked. I just believe that people deserve second chances—maybe three or four.”

One day, Pastor Gail asks for Wayland’s help to prepare a room for a meeting to be held that evening for single mothers. Wayland hangs around when the meeting starts. And he sees someone from his past whom he hasn’t seen since he was in prison. Her name is Dolores (played by Jena Malone), but she sometimes goes by the nickname Lola, which is what her three kids call her. And she’s was Wayland’s girlfriend when they were in high school together.

Wayland and Dolores began dating when they were both 15. Viewers will find out in bits and pieces what happened to Dolores and Wayland’s high school romance and why they broke up. Their full story is told in a few flashbacks, but mostly through conversations that Wayland and Dolores have about the past.

At the church meeting, Wayland and Dolores make eye contact, and she excuses herself from the meeting to talk to him outside. Based on their body language and how they look at each other, there’s still some romantic heat and unfinished business between the two of them. Dolores and Wayland haven’t seen each other since he went to prison. They stayed in touch for a little while after he was sent to prison, but they eventually ended their contact while he was incarcerated.

When they were a couple, Dolores (who was a star swimmer on her high school team) and Wayland had planned to move to Los Angeles together after high school. But Wayland got caught up in criminal activities with his biker gang called the Night Horsemen, which led to the armed robbery that landed him in prison. Dolores began dating other people, and she had to drop out of high school when she got pregnant with her first child.

Dolores, who now works as a motel maid, seems pleasantly surprised to see that Wayland is now out of prison. They immediately make plans for a date at a bar after the church meeting. Based on how quickly Dolores runs out of the church meeting when it’s over, she’s eagerly anticipating this date. When Wayland picks her up in his truck, he sheepishly tells her that he doesn’t have any cash. She doesn’t seem to mind too much and she offers to pay for whatever they order at the bar.

During their reunion conversation, Dolores gives a brief update on her life by telling him that she has three kids. Dolores assures Wayland that he’s definitely not the father of her first child, a boy named Dodger Blue (played by, who is now 15. She describes Dodger’s father as “nobody” and a meaningless fling. “I couldn’t even tell you his name,” Dolores says. Later, when Wayland meets Dodger, he knows for sure that he’s not the father because Dodger is biracial, with a black biological father.

The date ends with Dolores inviting Wayland back to her modest house to spend the night. Unlike most movies which portray ex-cons who’ve been recently let out of prison as very horny and ready to have sex with the first available partner, “Lorelei” shows that Wayland is hesitant and insecure in this intimate moment. He whispers to Dolores, “I don’t even know how to do this anymore.”

Dolores is kind and patient with Wayland, who isn’t ready to be fully intimate with her. She asks him if he fooled around wth men in prison, and he says no. They spend the night together cuddling, but they eventually make up for this chaste date with their first night of passion together in years.

The next morning, Wayland is introduced to Dolores’ children. All three of her kids have different biological fathers, who are not involved in raising them. Dodger is a typical teen who is somewhat rebellious. His mother lets him vape in the house, but she doesn’t allow him to do drink alcohol or do drugs. He likes to weightlift and hasn’t decided what he wants to do with his life yet. Later in the story, he tells Wayland that he’s thinking about joining the military after he graduates from high school.

Dolores’ middle child is sassy 12-year-old daughter Periwinkle Blue (played by Amelia Borgerding), nicknamed Peri. Dolores later tells Wayland that Peri’s biological father was a “lowlife” meth addict. Peri is an obedient child overall but shows a great deal of resentment toward Dolores and has a tendency to talk rudely to her. Why the hostility? Peri thinks Dolores is a flaky mother who gives special treatment to her other two kids, especially Dodger.

Dolores’ youngest child is sweet-natured 6-year-old Denim (played by Parker Pascoe-Sheppard), whose assigned gender at birth was male, but there are signs that Denim is a transgender female. Denim only wants to wear Peri’s feminine-identifying clothes and doesn’t want to wear clothes that look like boys’ outfits. Dolores later tells Wayland that Denim’s father was one of Dodger’s schoolteachers, who was married and movied out of the area with his wife and kids soon after finding out that Dolores was pregnant with his child.

The first time that Wayland talks to Dodger, the teenager is lifting weights. When Wayland offers some weightlifting advice, Dodger is rude and standoffish. Dolores and Denim are more accepting of Wayland soon after they meet him.

However, the cold response from Dodger makes Wayland uncomfortable, and Wayland skips out on Dolores’ invitation to stay for breakfast. Wayland says he needs to use the bathroom. Instead, he leaves by the house’s back door without saying goodbye.

The next time Dolores sees Wayland, she’s furious at how he snuck out and snubbed her and her family. He says he’s sorry, and she quickly forgives him. Viewers can see where this relationship is going to go. And it does go that way: Wayland ends up moving in with Dolores and becomes a stepfather figure to the kids.

Pastor Gail believes that ex-cons are less likely to re-offend if they’re in a stable relationship with a love partner. She wrote a recommendation to Wayland’s parole officer Raf Ortiz (played by Joseph Bertót) to give permission for Wayland to move out of the church’s spare room and move in with Dolores. However, Raf warns Wayland about the pressures of raising children. The parole officer is skeptical that Wayland can find a job that can pay enough money to support a household of five people.

And finding this type of job is one of the toughest challenges for Wayland, whose options are limited since a lot of places won’t hire ex-prisoners who were convicted of felonies. To make some quick money, Wayland sells his blood. His foul-mouthed cousin Violet (played by Dana Millican) happens to see Wayland coming out of plasma center while she’s driving down the street, and she offers to put in a good word for him at a local auto parts shop/junkyard. It’s kind of a hilarious scene because Violet has this conversation while she stopped her car on the street. Drivers behind her get irritated, and she curses at them to drive around her.

Wayland gets a part-time job at the auto shop, but the salary is very low. (His first paycheck is only a little more than $126.) With financial pressure increasing, Wayland is tempted to take an offer from his biker friend Kurt (played by Ryan Findley) to do some work for Kurt in Kurt’s drug-dealing business. The movie shows whether or not Wayland takes Kurt’s offer.

“Lorelei” shows in a very naturalistic way how Wayland’s relationships with Dolores and her children evolve and go through ups and downs. He eventually earns to trust of all of the children. Peri gets along with Wayland so well that she makes it clear that she likes Wayland more than she likes Dolores, which leads to Dolores feeling hurt and jealous. There’s a sequence involving Peri’s birthday that exemplifies this turmoil.

Dolores’ kids are never shown at school, but there’s mention of the bullying they get because other students tease them for coming from a “trashy” family. In addition, Denim is bullied for being a gender non-conforming child. It’s a problem that neither Dolores nor Wayland really know how to handle.

Dolores is frustrated over being in a dead-end job and wondering what would have happened if she and Wayland had moved to Los Angeles. Wayland seems content to stay in Oregon, so there’s a question if that will be dealbreaker in this relationship. And there are signs that Dolores hasn’t given up her passion for swimming.

The movie has some artistic-looking dream sequences that are supposed to be reminiscent of one of Wayland and Dolores’ best dates when they were teenagers: When they went to a beach to look at the ocean. “Lorelei” creatively uses the ocean and swimming as metaphors for escape, drowning in fear, or a sort of rebirth.

One of the more realistic aspects of “Lorelei” is that it doesn’t tie up Wayland’s financial problems nicely in a neat little bow. For example, in one part of the movie, Wayland impulsively buys an old, run-down ice cream truck that can still operate. Wayland can’t really explain why he bought this truck, but he has vague plans that he might refurbish the truck to start his own ice-cream truck business.

It’s not really spoiler information to reveal that the movie never shows if Wayland followed through on this sort-of goal, because it’s very true-to-life that many people act this way with unfocused goals that they might or might not pursue. The ice cream truck is almost symbolic of how Wayland wishes that he could go back to simpler times when he was a child. At any rate, Denim and Peri love the truck, which is used as somewhat of a device for comic relief, when Wayland drives this conspicuous ice-cream truck in some sketchy situations involving the biker gang.

“Lorelei” might be a letdown to viewers who are expecting a more action-oriented or more melodramatic film instead of the naturalistic way that this movie flows in telling the story. Dolores and Wayland have arguments that are believable. Their rekindled romance doesn’t go smoothly like a fairytale. And there are no real villains in the story—just people trying to get by in the best way that they can.

Malone’s compelling portrayal of Dolores is of someone who’s been damaged and disappointed by life. She loves her kids, but she thinks they deserve better than what she can offer to them. And that feeling of not being “good enough” has slowly chipped away at her core sense of self until she makes a decision to try to try to heal herself in the best way that she can.

Wayland’s emotional arc in “Lorelei” is a lot easier to predict, but Schreiber’s portrayal of this complicated character is still intriguing to watch. At one point in the movie, Wayland says that being in prison changed him. It’s up to viewers to figure out or intepret how he’s changed, since the flashbacks to his teenage years with Dolores are very brief. Schreiber gives a spot-on performance of someone who’s gradually learning that vulnerability can co-exist with masculinity.

It’s also fascinating to watch how Wayland adjusts to becoming an instant “stepfather.” There are moments that will pull at viewers’ heartstrings when Denim asks Wayland more than once if Denim can call him “Dad.” Wayland’s response is a little different every time.

As Dolores’ children, actors Perry, Borgerding and Pascoe-Sheppard make admirable feature-film debuts in “Lorelei.” In real life, Pascoe-Sheppard is non-binary, using the pronoun “they” for their identity, according to the “Lorelei” production notes. Kudos to director Doyle for making the effort to cast a gender-non-conforming role with an actor who is gender-non-conforming instead of taking the easier path of casting a cisgender actor in the role.

“Lorelei” is a specific story about an emotionally wounded couple and the children they are raising, but the movie effectively speaks to universal truths about how insecurities and being held back by past mistakes can affect people’s perceptions of themselves and others. And the movie is ultimately a meaningful story showing that family is not what you’re born into but what you make of it.

Vertical Entertainment released “Lorelei” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on JUly 30, 2021.