Zhu Lin as Mei Mei and Guy Pearce as Dean Randall in "33 Postcards." (P?auline Chan )
Innocence meets experience, unconvincingly, in the strained redemption drama "33 Postcards." The movie's awkward mix of familiar setups finds a teenage orphan from China on the sorta-mean streets of Sydney, Australia, inspiring hope in a criminal who has long since repented for his sins. The involvement of Guy Pearce — one of the best, if most unsung, actors of his generation — is among the film's many bafflements.
Sixteen-year-old Mei Mei (Zhu Lin) has spent most of her life in a peaceful valley in Zhejiang province. The donations of an Aussie sponsor, Dean (Pearce), have enabled her to attend school and learn English, and his letters and cheery postcards have sparked a vision of a better life. But when her orphanage's choir travels to Australia to perform in a festival, Mei Mei learns that Dean has been writing to her from prison and not the shiny happy home he described.
CHEAT SHEET: Cannes Film Festival 2013
Her insistent visits to the correctional facility, as Dean nervously awaits his parole hearing, are hard to believe, but nowhere near as incredible as the sheltered girl's deepening, if guileless, involvement with Dean's former partners in crime. The climactic collision of agendas is even more contrived than everything leading to it.
Director Pauline Chan, working from a screenplay she wrote with Martin Edmond and Philip Dalkin, ably shapes some scenes but can't overcome the material's labored concoctions about two people who are uncertain of their place in the world. Pearce is tight-lipped and anguished in a role that's a flat conception, like everything else in the story.
"33 Postcards." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Playing: Laemmle's Noho 7, North Hollywood
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