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Gordy: Why did you trust him from the beginning?
Martine: I think because I trust...sad people.
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The Yellow Handkerchief is a 2008 drama film starring William Hurt, Maria Bello, Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne.

William Hurt plays Brett, a man who gets released from prison at the start of the story. With no home and no family, he ends up hitchhiking with two teenagers. Martine (Kristen Stewart) and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne) are strangers to each other, but get drawn together. Each of them is dysfunctional in their own way, but all bond as they journey to Southern Louisiana. Along the way, Brett is troubled by flashbacks to his relationship with a woman called May (Maria Bello).

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Tropes:

  • Abuse Mistake: A passerby mistakes Brett's attempt to give a distraught (and drunk) May a Cooldown Hug for Domestic Abuse, which is what leads to the Accidental Murder that sparks the whole plot.
  • Accidental Murder:
    • What Brett went to prison for. A passerby saw him and May arguing, thought Brett was attacking her and tried to intervene. Brett pushed him and he hit his head off a fire hydrant.
    • Gordy also accidentally hits a deer crossing the road.
  • Adorkable: Gordy in parts due to having No Social Skills. He comes across as slightly creepy at first, but his awkwardness endears him to Brett and Martine after a while.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Alluded to with May, who had a string of bad relationships. Brett suggests that the men themselves were just bad. Brett himself is a former bad boy who is now reformed.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: May gave one to Brett while he was in prison - right after he said he wanted a divorce. Also doubles as a "Reason You Suck" Speech.
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  • Armor-Piercing Question: Martine gives one to Brett about May.
    Martine: Do you think she knows.... that she's the one thing in your whole life you've ever loved?
  • Beta Couple: Although Martine and Gordy are two of the protagonists, more emphasis is on Brett and May's relationship, making them the Beta.
  • Blue And Orange Contrast: During the flashback of May and Brett making love in the shower, the scene is lit by contrasting hues of blue and orange.
  • Broken Bird: May has been through a lot in her life, and it's taken its toll.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Gordy apparently is a computer repairman.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Brett mails a postcard when they stop at a motel. He later reveals it was a postcard telling May he'd just gotten out.
  • Children Raise You: Brett is clearly a better person from getting to know the two teens along the road trip.
  • Chromatic Arrangement: The three protagonists. Brett wears a blue jacket, Martine has a red top and Gordy a green shirt and cap.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Gordy is quite odd and has some peculiar mannerisms.
  • Color Motif:
    • The first troubled flashbacks with May are heavily filtered in blue, to create a melancholy feeling. A similar use of blue is created in a flashback to Brett divorcing May in prison as all the prisoners wear blue uniforms.
    • The scene of May and Brett rowing through the bayou have a lot of green, creating a tranquil feeling.
    • Brett telling Gordy and Martine about May is lit with a predominance of orange - emphasising the warmth.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Martine warms towards Gordy as the film goes on. May also in the process of her relationship with Brett.
    "Did you know that you made me love you?"
  • Disappeared Dad: Gordy's left him when he was just an infant. Martine's is around but doesn't show her much attention, considering she repeatedly says that no one from home has left a message wondering where she is.
  • Dysfunction Junction: In the one car we have - the ex-con who went to prison for manslaughter, the oddball teenage runaway, and the absurdly trusting fifteen-year-old with daddy issues.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The film covers three days, give or take.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Martine (Choleric), Gordy (Sanguine), Brett (Phlegmatic) and May (Melancholic).
  • Free-Range Children: Martine is free to take off on a two-day road trip around the state, and she mentions that her father hasn't even left a message wondering where she is.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Subverted. May reveals she once had an abortion, and it's used to show her as a Woobie.
  • Hollywood Kiss: Brett and May's Reunion Kiss is so loving and cinematic it ought to be on a movie poster.
  • Hypocrite:
    • A redneck's girlfriend screams abuse at Brett for attacking her boyfriend, calling him a psycho and freak. This is after her boyfriend had been attacking Gordy, while she sadistically cheered him on.
    • Not long after this, Gordy is mistrustful of Brett when he finds out he was in prison. This is after he's spent a while hoping Martine won't judge him for his flaws.
  • Insecure Love Interest: The reason Brett is reluctant to go back to May is that he doesn't think he's good enough for her. May doesn't agree with him.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Brett - who is in his forties or fifties - with Gordy and Martine, who are both teenagers.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: This is why Brett breaks things off with May — he thinks she's better off without him. May doesn't agree.
  • I Will Wait for You: Discussed by Martine, who says she would wait for a loved one to serve out their prison sentence. Ultimately played straight by May.
  • Karma Houdini: The couple that attacked Gordy for accidentally dinging their van seem to get off scot free, aside from the husband getting beaten up by Brett.
  • Last Guy Wins: Brett was the latest in a series of failed lovers for May. He does indeed win and she waits for him to get out of prison.
  • Last Minute Hook Up: Gordy and Martine after Brett and May are reunited.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Subverted. The protagonists are all lonely in some way, and have an oddness to them. But they're good people who just want to be loved.
  • Love Theme: Brett and May have an achingly poignant, beautiful, romantic theme that winds through their tenderest moments together.
  • Love Will Lead You Back: Despite the way their relationship ended, May refuses to give up on Brett, hoping that he will find his way back to her. She's absolutely right.
  • Magical Native American: Gordy (who is white but raised by Native Americans) tries to invoke this a couple of times, but it's used to show him as an idiot.
  • May–December Romance: Parodied, courtesy of this little exchange.
    Martine: Are you married?
    Brett: Are you interviewing for the job, because you're a little young.
  • Mood Lighting: Love scenes between Brett and May are shot with a soft yellow light.
  • Morality Pet: The teens are this for Brett. When he thinks Gordy might be raping Martine due to a misunderstanding, he intervenes and makes Gordy sleep in the bathroom. Later when some rednecks attack Gordy, he defends him. May also qualifies; his tenderness with her speaks volumes about how much he loves her.
  • Motor Mouth: Martine tends to ramble or ask a lot of questions.
  • One Head Taller: In her bare feet, May comes up almost exactly to Brett's chin. This only adds to the romance of the final scene, as he folds her in his arms and strokes her hair while she hides her face in his chest. He even gets to lift her off the ground and into his arms before their Reunion Kiss.
  • One True Love: Martine calls May "the one thing in [his] whole life [he's] ever loved." Brett can't deny it.
  • The Power of Love: The movie's tagline is "Discover the power of love."
  • Red Herring: The audience is led to believe that Brett went to prison for killing May or at least assaulting her. It's later revealed they were in love and the actual murder was a stranger who got caught in an argument between them. Funnily enough May is wearing a red dress when it happens.
  • Reunion Kiss: Brett and May, at the very end of the film. Unlike most examples of the trope, while the kiss itself is simple, sweet, and heartfelt, most of the emotion is conveyed simply by the tender way he holds her.
  • Road Trip Plot: But of course. The majority of the movie is spent on the road as the trio journey through Louisiana.
  • Road Trip Romance: Martine and Gordy slowly fall for each other during the trip.
  • Scenery Porn: It's a road movie that takes place in Louisiana and shows off plenty of the sights and scenery.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Gordy decided to just up and leave where he lived because everyone hated him.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: May dons a beautiful red dress and does her hair in anticipation of Brett's return at the end.
  • Shipper on Deck: Martine and Gordy are the ones who convince Brett to reunite with May, after hearing the story about her.
  • Stepford Smiler: Gordy reveals himself to be one, though he wavers between this and The Pollyanna.
  • Tears of Joy: May gets a bit teary-eyed when Brett lifts her into his arms at the end.
  • Trauma Conga Line: May's life was one. She had numerous bad relationships, one of which resulted in an abortion. She suffers a miscarriage and her husband goes to prison for accidental murder, and divorces her while inside.
  • Troubled Back Story Flashback: To Brett's relationship with May, her miscarriage of their child and accidental murder of a stranger.
  • Troubled, but Cute: All the protagonists are troubled in some way but have an endearing quality to them:
    • Brett is an ex-con and has a hint of a temper, but is a kind and honourable man underneath.
    • Martine is a little judgmental and brutally honest, but very trusting.
    • Gordy is awkward and odd, but wants to be loved.
    • May too has suffered hardships but just wants love too.
  • True Blue Femininity: Martine's default outfit has a blue t-shirt, emphasising her kind and caring nature.
  • Tsundere: May is a Type A who gets tsuntsun when Brett first makes advances to her, but becomes deredere pretty quickly. Martine is a Type B who is mostly deredere to Brett, but Gordy brings out her tsuntsun side.
  • Vague Age: Gordy's age is never said, but he's old enough to drive, which puts him at seventeen at the youngest.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: May delivers this speech to Brett as he gives her divorce papers while in prison.
    "Did you know that you made me love you?"
  • When She Smiles: May only properly smiles at the end when she's reunited with Brett - and it's lovely. Brett himself breaks into an equally happy smile.
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