Yellow tells the story of a woman with a sordid past, a dysfunctional present, and a desolate future. Mary Holmes (co-writer Heather Wahlquist) is a drug addicted, promiscuous, mentally ill and traumatized substitute teacher. Not in a funny way like Bad Teacher, but in a very fucked up way. Fucked up like she imagines the four abortions she’s had as four small children who follow her around. Fucked up like she has an incestuous relationship with her half brother.
Billed as a dramedy, most of Yellow‘s lighter moments are derived from its various fantasy sequences. It is also in these scenes that the film shows its budget. The special effects are still well done, however, and I suppose it doesn’t have to look realistic if it’s a fantasy sequence.
A little overbearing, the film could have benefited from some restraint on behalf of its makers. It’s interesting to look at, but ultimately very alienating. I’m sure Heather Wahlquist and Nick Cassavetes (co-writer, director) are fully invested in the events — this is easily Cassavetes’ most personal film — but that’s just the vibe Yellow puts off; it’s not a film for you, it’s a film for the filmmakers. You’re not supposed to fully understand it, (the water motif means something, I know that) you’re just supposed to subject 90 minutes of your life to it.
There are moments of beauty and poignancy in Yellow, yet most are fleeting or quickly out-balanced by something devastating and brutal. The fantasy sequences can be a little maudlin — sometimes it feels like they’re just there to make the film appear smarter than it really is. I don’t think Yellow really even knows what kind of film it is. But that’s okay, it adds to the sort of free-wheeling, controlled chaos of the plot and characters.
Which brings me to the best part about Yellow, it somehow manages to be simultaneously serious and silly. The ending is painful and mock optimistic — but, as always, with a sly wink to the audience. Additionally, as with any film that features prolonged fantasy sequences, it is questionable by the end which scenes were real and which were made up. But what is reality anyway? Yeah… it’s that kind of film.