Wendy and Lucy
Dir. Kelly Reichhardt (2008 80 min, super 16, 1.85)
Michelle Williams, Will Oldham, John Robinson, Walter Dalton, Will Patton, Larry Fessenden
Wendy Carroll is driving to Ketchikan, Alaska, in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the Northwestern Fish cannery, and the start of a new life with her dog, Lucy.
The victories and insights gained in Wendy and Lucy
are hard-won and small in stature, but they linger on the mind.
Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy” is another illustration of how absorbing
a film can be when the plot doesn’t stand between us and a character.
Still, even when her outcome courts frustration,
Reichardt is wholly herself and a director to reckon with.
Deliberately paced – slow, even – it’s nevertheless an amazing,
timely parable for increasingly desperate times.
THE NEW YORKER
David Denby January 26, 2009
Michelle Williams’s drifter, Wendy, stuck in Oregon, is neither crazy nor criminal, but she has less sense than a quiet creature in the woods. She merely exists, harmless but obdurate, a slight, wandering woman without a discernible past whose only allegiance is to her yellow-brown mutt, Lucy. The movie has been called an early portent of recession-era blues, but it’s hard to see what work Wendy could do even in boom times. She has an idea of finding a job in Alaska, but it’s so vague that it seems more a dream than a plan. The society that she lives in is as indifferent to her as she is to it—some people help her, others brush her off, and she never connects with anyone but an elderly security guard. She’s infuriating, but the movie, for all its morose impassivity, is beautiful and haunting. As Williams plays her, Wendy is full of feeling, and, as skinny as she is, she has a palpable, fleshy presence. Kelly Reichardt seems to be saying, “Yes, she merely exists—isn’t that enough?” She won’t go away, and Reichardt immerses her in Oregon’s summer light, its forests as seen from a moving train. The cinematography is so tactile that even a run-down building stirs us with its purchase on its given space in the world. A contemplative movie like this clears all the whirling, meaningless imagery out of our heads.
David Jenkins March, 3 2009
‘If a person can’t afford dog food, then they shouldn’t have a dog,’ snaps a preppy store clerk to Wendy (Michelle Williams) after catching her stealing food for her beloved yellow-gold retriever, Lucy. The clerk’s sentiment captures the debate at the heart of this brilliant, desperately sad Steinbeckian fable from American director Kelly Reichardt. It’s Reichardt’s third full-length feature (‘Old Joy’ was in cinemas last year), but only her first masterpiece.
In the film’s opening seconds, Wendy and Lucy’s energising mutual dependence is writ large with a remarkable, inconspicuous tracking shot that captures the pair frolicking through a woodland glade, setting the perfect tone for the heartbreaking minimalist weepie that lies ahead. Wendy is our heroine, a waifish tomboy on a journey up north where she hopes to find work in an Alaskan fish cannery. She’s a whisker away from financial penury when her minutely orchestrated plans go seriously awry and she loses her adored mutt during a prolonged stopover in the sleepy mill town of Williamsville, Oregon. As the quest to recover Lucy takes up the bulk of the story, a threat of loneliness and destitution bubbles frenetically beneath its stoical façade. Reichardt is interested in exploring the domino effect of a plummet into insolvency and the idea that existing on meagre budgets calls for extreme prudence, prioritising and, often, sacrifice.
Stylistically uncomplicated and admirable in both its honesty and the terseness of its storytelling, the film manages that rare feat of being both remarkably prescient and modest at the same time. Steering clear of the lefty sermonising that crept into ‘Old Joy’, Reichardt and co-writer Jon Raymond employ a sincere and discreet depiction of life on the fringe, be it through the kindly mutterings of a pension-age security guard (Wally Dalton), or the person of a small-time mechanic (Will Patton) who can’t cut Wendy a deal for her broken-down car without risking his quality of life.
The story, too, is never over-egged with superfluous plot, dialogue or imagery and every minutely judged frame oozes gently with detail and emotion.The feather-light enhancements that Reichardt does add via the photography (DoP Sam Levy’s elegant framing of Wendy in the deserted Northwestern streets) and sound design (the constant clatter and wail of passing trains which act as both a surrogate release for Wendy’s pent-up despair and a constant call for her to continue with her journey) work wonders in proliferating the hushed desperation on screen.
The film it most resembles is De Sica’s neo-realist landmark, ‘Umberto D’ (without the craven sentimentality and doggie anthropomorphism), but ‘Wendy and Lucy’ also contains thematic overlaps with many other great movies, such as the starkness and instability of communal life in Altman’s ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller’, the muted despair in the Dardennes’s ‘Rosetta’ and the austere, heart-wrenching poetry of Kiarostami’s ‘Where Is the Friend’s House?’.
But central to it all is Michelle Williams’s beautifully restrained and humane performance (her best by some stretch) which embodies the pent-up frustrations, doubts, fears and dilemmas that this lonely soul has been burdened with. Her nuanced and naturalistic delivery wrings poignant truth from the realities of Wendy’s struggle for perseverance and dignity, where every decision is crucial, and every futile cry of ‘Lucy!’ stabs directly at the heart. It’s what makes this film the small miracle that it is.
Peter Howell Feburary 06 2009
Starring Michelle Williams, Will Patton and Walter Dalton. Directed by Kelly Reichardt. 80 minutes. At the Cumberland. 14A
A lost dog makes for deeply felt drama in Wendy and Lucy, a film of inner turmoil painted on a minimalist’s canvas.
The plot of director Kelly Reichardt’s film, which she co-wrote with Jon Raymond (whose story Train Choir lit the spark), could be reduced to two lines: Woman loses dog. Woman searches for dog.
Around these mundane events, though, are a series of frustrating setbacks that help illuminate the reasons for the perpetually downtrodden expression of Indiana drifter Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams), whose back story is only inferred.
Driving a wheezing 1988 Honda, she arrives in a small Oregon town with her dog Lucy, a yellow-gold retriever mix with a gaze even more doleful than her beloved owner’s.
The duo is on the road to Alaska, where Wendy hopes to land a job in a fish cannery, earning enough money for them to start a new life. Her battered road diary (seen only in glimpses), weathered attire and savings of rolled-up dollars (maybe totalling a few hundred) suggest that Wendy’s prior life wasn’t much to leave behind.
Her luck heads further south when her car breaks down, requiring the assistance of an auto mechanic (Will Patton), whose gruff sympathy won’t erase a repair estimate that Wendy can’t really afford.
The only person who truly cares about her is a parking-lot guard (folkie Walter Dalton) who recognizes the lost soul within.
Wendy has a bigger concern than her car. An attempt to shoplift dog food goes awry and Lucy goes missing, leaving Wendy to search for her with scant cash and fewer leads.
Not helping the matter one bit is Wendy’s near-catatonic stillness, which could easily be taken as indifference. Wendy’s misfortunes, including Lucy’s disappearance, have a lot to do with her inability to express herself or to pursue her best interests.
She has been so beaten down by life; she is barely able to function beyond the most humdrum of everyday activities. She mumbles “nuthin'” when asked what she’s doing. She apparently views Alaska as her saviour, much like Emile Hirsch’s more purposeful drifter in Into the Wild.
Wendy isn’t a completely pitiful character; she maintains her pride even as her world is falling around her. She hums an upbeat tune to herself, perhaps willing herself to stay positive.
Reichardt made Wendy and Lucy prior to the current economic meltdown. It’s a reflection of her filmmaking style, steeped in the minimalism of European auteurs, more than it is direct social commentary. Her previous film, Old Joy, took a similar meditative stance on a road trip between two male friends, and even had the same dog, which is Reichardt’s own.
Yet Wendy and Lucy is in sync with the times, illustrative of how easily people become unmoored when the trappings of ordinary life are suddenly removed.
“I don’t know what the people do all day,” the security guard tells Wendy, sadly reflecting on how she’s not alone in her poverty and lack of options.
The film is a study in contained emotion. Neither Reichardt nor Williams yield to cheap theatrics or manufactured sympathy to manipulate viewers. The lighting is flat, the lensing workmanlike and the soundtrack is unadorned by music that could tug the heartstrings.
This admirably austere aesthetic is taken almost to a dead end: Wendy is so bereft of personal history, and so determined to do things her own way, it’s difficult to warm up to her.
The victories and insights gained in Wendy and Lucy are hard-won and small in stature, but they linger on the mind.
Roger Ebert January 28, 2009
I know so much about Wendy, although this movie tells me so little. I know almost nothing about where she came from, what her life was like, how realistic she is about the world, where her ambition lies. But I know, or feel, everything about Wendy at this moment: stranded in an Oregon town, broke, her dog lost, her car a write-off, hungry, friendless, quiet, filled with desperate resolve.
Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy” is another illustration of how absorbing a film can be when the plot doesn’t stand between us and a character. There is no timetable here. Nowhere Wendy came from, nowhere she’s going to, no plan except to get her car fixed and feed her dog. Played by Michelle Williams, she has a gaze focused inward, on her determination. We pick up a few scraps: Her sister in Indiana is wary of her, and she thinks she might be able to find a job in a fish cannery in Ketchikan, Alaska.
But Alaska seems a long way to drive from Indiana just to get a job in a cannery, and this movie isn’t about the unemployment rate. Alaska perhaps appeals to Wendy because it is as far away she can drive where they still speak English. She parks on side streets and sleeps in her car, she has very limited cash, her golden retriever Lucy is her loving companion. She wakes up one morning somewhere in Oregon, her car won’t start and she’s out of dog food, and that begins a chain of events that leads to wandering around a place she doesn’t know for her only friend in the world.
When I say I know all about Wendy, that’s a tribute to Michelle Williams’ acting, Kelly Reichardt’s direction and the cinematography of Sam Levy. They use Williams’ expressive face, often forlorn, always hopeful, to show someone who embarked on an unplanned journey, has gone too far to turn back. And right now, she doesn’t care about anything but getting her friend back. Her world is seen as the flat everyday world of shopping malls and storefronts, rail tracks and not much traffic, skies that the weatherman calls “overcast.” You know those days when you walk around, and the weather makes you feel in your stomach that something is not right? Cinematography can make you feel like that.
She walks. She walks all the way to the dog pound and back. All the way to an auto shop and back. And back to what? She sleeps in a park. The movie isn’t about people molesting her, although she has one unpleasant encounter. Most people are nice, like a mechanic (Will Patton), and especially a security guard of retirement age (Wally Dalton) whose job is to stand and look at a mostly empty parking lot for 12 hours and guard against a nonexistent threat to its empty spaces.
Early in the film, the teenage supermarket employee (John Robinson) who busts Wendy for shoplifting won’t give her a break. He’s a little suckup who possibly wants to impress his boss with an unbending adherence to “store policy.” Store policy also probably denies him health benefits and overtime, and if he takes a good look at Wendy, he may be seeing himself, minus the uniform with the logo and the nametag on it.
The people in the film haven’t dropped out of life; they’ve been dropped by life. It has no real use for them, and not much interest. They’re on hold. At least searching for your lost dog is a consuming passion; it gives Wendy a purpose and the hope of joy at the end. That’s what this movie has to observe, and it’s more than enough.
SAN FRANCISCO GATE
Mick LaSalle January 30, 2009
Wendy and Lucy: Drama. StarringMichelle Williams, Wally Dalton and Will Patton. Directed by Kelly Reichardt. (R. 80 minutes. At Bay Area theaters.)
Movies have a funny way sometimes of knowing the future. The latest example is “Wendy and Lucy,” which tells the story of a struggling young woman trying to make it to Alaska, so she can reach her idea of employment nirvana: a job in a fish-canning factory. This tale of poverty American-style was conceived and filmed when the Dow Jones was up around 11,000 and when the idea of going broke was, for most people, an abstract concept.
Going broke. Being poor. Getting down to your last buck. “Wendy and Lucy” may focus on one person, but its ambition is to make a larger point about what it’s like to lose everything. Lack of means might be the easiest part. There’s also the isolating loneliness of poverty, as well as the danger of it. There’s that way poverty has of perverting relationships, inspiring disdain and eating into self-esteem. “Wendy and Lucy” shows all this and, with an uncanny prescience, presents it at precisely the moment when audiences are capable of receiving it, not with distance, but with empathy. And some real fear.
The film, written and directed by Kelly Reichardt, has a European aura that can only be intentional. Those with even a scant familiarity with Italian cinema, for example, will see the parallels between this young woman-and-her-dog story and Vittorio De Sica‘s “Umberto D.,” about a retired old man struggling to maintain his dignity in the face of degrading poverty. (He had a dog, too.) That parallel in itself contains a message: The conditions that produced Italian neorealism have come to the United States.
(Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get movies of such sterling quality without having to go through the national pain that inspires them?)
In more general terms, “Wendy and Lucy” seems European in its focus on the individual and in its social concern, measured pace and modest length – a length perfectly suited to the material. Too often American directors wreck their movies by taking an 80-minute idea and stretching it to 110 minutes. Long doesn’t mean important, and short doesn’t mean trivial. “Wendy and Lucy” provides a concentrated dose of affecting human drama.
A deglamorized Michelle Williams (bad clothes, cropped hair, no makeup) plays Wendy, whose car breaks down in Oregon. That she breaks down while still in the continental United States is essential to the tale. Had she broken down in Canada, it would have meant something else, but this is an American story about an American problem.
Her best friend in the world is her dog, Lucy – in fact, the dog might be her only friend. The dog is yellow and vivid and, though a bitch, a fine actress, as is often the case. Because of circumstances I won’t reveal (even though they unfold in the first 20 minutes), Wendy and Lucy become separated. The rest of the movie consists mainly of Wendy’s trying to find Lucy, while looking for a way to get her car fixed, so they can continue on their journey.
The film captures the mercilessness of a small town in the middle of the night – the headlights and rushing sounds of the interstate, the train whistles, the brightly lit gas stations with no one in them, the deserted streets. In one scene, Wendy decides to sleep in the woods and wakes up to a crazy homeless man’s haranguing her about his “rights” and how he doesn’t like being treated “like trash.” (A very American lunatic, he wants respect as much as he wants money.) Reichardt films the scene with great taste and economy – just a close-up of Williams’ terrified eyes.
Williams is equally impressive in moments that call for less intensity, that demand only a lived-in sense of always having been close to the economic brink. In one telling scene, an old security guard (Wally Dalton) does her an unexpected good turn, and she seems embarrassed. She doesn’t know how to act when people are nice to her. Unfortunately, there’s a limit to how much anyone can help her: When you’re broke, you tend to meet only people who are equally broke.
At the start of the movie, Wendy is part of the dysfunctional lower class, and her goal is to work very hard to make it into the functional lower middle class – and to keep from falling off the edge of society altogether. It’s impossible to watch this film in January 2009 without being aware that, in an economic downturn, the people who don’t have much to begin with stand the greatest chance of getting clobbered. That’s the reality on the screen, and that’s the truth in the movie theater. In this way, “Wendy and Lucy” – a film that might have seemed faintly academic six months ago – becomes an anxious expression of its historical moment.
THE SEATTLE TIMES
John Hartl January 22, 2009
Like a minimalist female version of “Into the Wild,” Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy” tells the story of an alienated Lower 48 American who leaves family behind to find peace in Alaska.
Michelle Williams, an Oscar nominee for her memorably expressive work as the late Heath Ledger’s wife in “Brokeback Mountain,” gives another luminous performance as Wendy Carroll, an Indiana woman who intends to reach Alaska in her unreliable Honda. Lucy is her dog, who is her best and possibly only friend.
When their car breaks down in Oregon, Wendy makes some dubious decisions about what to do with what little cash she has on her. She ends up paying a $50 fine for shoplifting dog food, but when she returns to the scene of the crime, Lucy is gone.
The rest of the movie deals with her attempts to find Lucy in a Pacific Northwest neighborhood that’s not exactly bursting with compassion for destitute passers-by. She gets some grudging help from a car mechanic (Will Patton) and a more helpful boost from a chatty security guard (Walter Dalton), who helps her move the car and phone the pound.
Much less helpful is the priggish young grocery clerk (John Robinson), who catches Wendy shoplifting and insists on making “an example” of her. If she can’t afford dog food, he declares, she shouldn’t have a dog. He’s consumed with contempt.
In almost any other movie, you’d expect him to apologize when they meet again, but he’s unrepentant, a judgmental child who usually gets his way — even with a boss who might have been lenient under other circumstances.
Reichardt and her actors are at their best in a scene in which Wendy’s fate is decided by the kid’s less-than-subtle power games. She also delights in the different personalities Patton expresses on the phone, and in the gradual evolution of Dalton’s paternal behavior. And the dog is a charmer.
Will Oldham, the singer and co-star of Reichardt’s much-acclaimed previous film, “Old Joy,” turns up in a cameo role in an ominous prologue that suggests a dire future. An epilogue isn’t much more hopeful, though it suggests a streak of independence that may sustain Wendy.
Always at the center of the movie is Williams’ performance, which may be the best thing she’s done. Whether she’s warily cleaning up in a service-station restroom, or staring at the trains that offer a different travel option, or establishing her rapport with Lucy, Williams bravely explores the soul of a creature who’s both gentle and determined.
Steven Rea January 23, 2009
Wearing a blue hoodie, pants cut off at the knee and tan sneakers, Wendy Carroll is on the run from her own sad life. In her 20s and alone, she pulls into a drizzly Oregon town, has car problems, gets into trouble with the law, and then loses her dog, Lucy.
That’s about the sum of what happens in Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, except to say that somehow, thanks to an extraordinary performance from Michelle Williams and an exceptionally deft hand from her director, this low-budget and loping little film is a genuine heartbreaker.
A meditation on loneliness and an unsentimental – and scarily timely – examination of the thin divide between those with jobs and homes and those without, Wendy and Lucy has a quiet resonance that fans of Reichardt’s Old Joy will recognize.
But where the filmmaker’s 2006 pic about two old pals taking a hike in the woods (same backdrop, the Pacific Northwest) examined the bonds of friendship through a stoner haze, Wendy and Lucy describes the desperate solitude of a woman whose emotions are clamped down tight, and whose one real “friend” is her rangy mutt. Disconnected from her family, Wendy has a plan of sorts – to find work in a fishing cannery in Alaska – but doesn’t have much purpose beyond that. Her sights are aimed low, and squarely ahead.
Grainy and quiet, Wendy and Lucy is the real-world Marley & Me – a world that has nothing to do with Hollywood or showcase houses or trained canines that deliver cute on command.
And nothing to do with celebrities, either. There isn’t a moment in Marley & Me where you can forget that its stars are perennial US Weekly angsters Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. There isn’t a moment in Wendy and Lucy when it even occurs to think of Williams as the sad-eyed mom of the late Heath Ledger’s child. The actress completely loses herself in the role, and does so in ways that are delicate and indrawn.
There’s a pivotal scene with Williams’ character curled up in a sleeping bag, in the woods of a park, when a menacing figure approaches. Reichardt closes in on Williams’ face, and its look of fear and defenselessness and aching aloneness is staggering. There’s not a word uttered, and yet the actress, nearly as still as a statue, practically wails.
Wendy and Lucy was written by Reichardt with Jon Raymond, adapting his story “Train Choir,” and the film has the telling details, the seemingly ordinary exchanges, of a great short story.
While this is Williams’ movie through and through – and one of the strongest performances from an actress in any of the 2008 releases, Oscar nomination or not – Walter Dalton is terrific as a craggy security guard who offers Wendy a bit of help and the use of his cell phone. Will Patton shows up as a garage mechanic, John Robinson is a hard-nosed young grocery-store clerk and even Will Oldham, the singer and Old Joy costar, pokes his mug into the frame.
Wendy and Lucy is modest, minimalist. But it nonetheless reverberates like a sonic boom.
Roger Moore March 20, 2009
Movies about people living on the fringes during hard times have a particular resonance in the multiplex of 2009. Sunshine Cleaning touches on the struggles of the working poor. Wendy and Lucy gives us a young woman and her dog that are just now discovering homelessness.
A feather-weight drama that drew oh-so-brief notice during the cinema’s “awards season,” Wendy stars Michelle Williams as the title character, on the road in an old unreliable car, living in that car with her dog, Lucy.
She’s on her way, she says, to a high-paying summer job in the fish canneries of coastal Alaska. The car breaks down in small-town Oregon. The mechanic ( Will Patton) would like to be of help, but if she can’t pay he can’t fix it.
Wendy tries to collect cans to get some spending money. She gets caught shoplifting by a guy young enough to be a moral absolutist. No mercy for the flat broke.
And then the dog gets lost and Wendy spirals into a depression looking for her, avoiding the cops (she can’t sleep in her car here) and trying not to become a single homeless woman “statistic.”
That’s pretty much the whole story in this plain but nicely-executed Kelly Reichardt (River of Grass) film. Her camera trails Wendy as her fragile life unravels, as Wendy hunts, ever more despairingly, for her lost dog — her one friend, the one creature she’s let depend on her.
Williams (Brokeback Mountain) seems a little too well-fed and looked after to be homeless. But she gives Wendy a marvelous, down-on-her-luck pathos with a hint of not-all-there/hasn’t-thought-this-through edge. Williams lets us see Wendy counting her change, the wheels turning as she grabs at whatever money-earning ideas her limited worldview suggests.
Every performance plays like real life observed. You’d swear that Patton had been under a hood his whole life, trying to keep this or that old beater running, hoping to save somebody some money and make enough himself to pay the rent.
Essentially a short parable tucked into a meditative 80 minutes, Wendy and Lucy takes too much time to get to a too-obvious conclusion. But Williams and Patton and the folks of this corner of Oregon serve up a slice of “indie” that, if it doesn’t reach the level of “inspires,” at least feels timely and true.
THE DENVER POST
Lisa Kennedy 03/06/2009
In “Wendy and Lucy,” a young woman of little means travels cross-country with her dog on the way to Alaska for fishery work. At a supermarket in a pass-through town in Oregon, she runs afoul of a stickler of an employee.
Her troubles separate her from her beloved companion. It’s a situation just the opposite of “through no fault of her own.” And for the rest of the tale, Wendy tries doggedly to get Lucy back.
All the while, she runs into the kind of obstacles those strapped of resources — cash, friends, family — often do.
After two co-workers saw director Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy” at the Starz Denver Film Festival last fall, they asked in a wonderfully collective bleat, “Wuhht!?”
In the intervening months, the movie found its way onto more than a dozen top-10 lists. Each time kudos were bestowed upon Reichardt’s spare, thoughtful and, yes, aggravating drama, I’d forward the news. It became a jokey retort to their “What gives?” befuddlement.
Now with “Wendy and Lucy” opening today at the Chez Artiste, it’s time to seriously consider an answer.
First, “Wendy and Lucy” is quiet, deliberate filmmaking. See it knowing you will witness an idiosyncratic take on storytelling by a fundamentally independent filmmaker.
If that sounds demanding, it is.
You will also see a director who has a way with the hushed performance. Reichardt gets a nuanced turn from the utterly capable Michelle Williams.
Wendy is a character whose trek to Alaska might shout of courage. But her predicament bespeaks a frustrating passivity. She is the sort of slowly unraveling character who — before we ever meet her — has already made choices that make her life hard and lonesome. When she camps in the woods near a train track, like a hobo, she goes further, courting danger.
The director encourages the movie’s other performers to radiate ever so softly as they go about being hurdles that Wendy has trouble clearing.
Walter Dalton’s security guard understands hard luck but still tells Wendy to move along.
Will Patton’s auto garage owner isn’t mean, exactly. He’s just a small-business owner dealing with a girl who, he believes, should know better.
Reichardt’s 2007 feature “Old Joy” (about two friends on a strange road trip to Bagby Hot Springs in Oregon) struck a more resonant chord.
Still, it would be foolish to dismiss the know-how poured into the film.
Reichardt’s talent is sculptural. Although she worked with writer Jon Raymond adapting his short story “Train Choir,” she seems to discover the shape of her movies in the found material of daily life.
Contrary to how we feel about our quotidian rhythms, they are remarkably resistant to pat storytelling. The filmmaker, who teaches at Bard College, delves into the simple, not the simplistic.
At times, Reichardt’s approach is reminiscent of Ang Lee’s patient method in “Brokeback Mountain.” There is also something stripped down here that brings to mind the sparer aesthetic of Gus Van Sant’s meditative features “Last Days” and “Paranoid Park.” Cinematic kin, it seems.
Still, even when her outcome courts frustration, Reichardt is wholly herself and a director to reckon with.
Bill Goodykoontz Feburary 27, 2009
As the economy continues to deteriorate, stories abound about workers losing their jobs, executives having their pay slashed and more people joining the ranks of those scrimping to get by.
But what about those who were down-and-out already? If your options hover somewhere between few and non-existent, where do you turn then? While ostensibly a simple story about a woman searching for her lost dog, “Wendy and Lucy,” bolstered by an outstanding performance by Michelle Williams, is an honest, moving yet bleak look at such an existence. Deliberately paced – slow, even – it’s nevertheless an amazing, timely parable for increasingly desperate times.
Williams plays Wendy, a young woman passing through Oregon on her way to what she hopes is a better life in Alaska. We know little about her, learning small bits here and there:
She has a married sister in Muncie, Ind., who assumes that a phone call means a request for money (it doesn’t). She’s limping a crippled Honda along as far as it’ll go. And she has Lucy, her beloved dog. Other than that and a few hundred dollars to get her north, it’s pretty much a sleep-in-your-car existence.
That’s how Wendy meets a friendly security guard (Wally Dalton), who stands watch over a lonely drugstore parking lot 12 hours a day. He boots Wendy from the premises but recognizes that she’s in need and helps her out as he can, offering the use of his cellphone, among other small favors.
Her car finally gives up the ghost, but, worst of all, Wendy loses Lucy. She ties her up outside a grocery store and, after a lengthy misadventure, comes back to find her gone. She spends the balance of the movie looking for Lucy while trying to maintain her own tenuous hold on life.
Wendy is the kind of character who simply forges ahead without drama, no matter what the circumstances. She lives way below the margins, giving herself sponge baths in gas-station restrooms, for instance, yet never complains. Then again, she rarely smiles – maybe a couple of times throughout the entire movie. And with Lucy gone, to whom does she have to complain, anyway?
Other people are kind to Wendy, including a worker at the dog pound (Ayanna Berkshire) and the owner of the garage where she hopes to get her car fixed (Will Patton, looking and sounding like a younger Robert Duvall). But they’re not too friendly. They, too, have lives to lead, and, while they want to help Wendy, they don’t overdo it.
Director Kelly Reichardt, who co-wrote the film, gives “Wendy and Lucy” a realistic feel yet is assured enough in her storytelling that you never feel as if you’re watching a documentary or a mere chronicling of a series of bad breaks.
Instead, Reichardt draws the audience into the film. Could Wendy stop here and find work? Perhaps, though, as the security guard notes ruefully, there aren’t many jobs left. (The unspoken implication, as he wonders how other people make it in this town, is that his job, while not much, is at least steady and, for that matter, existent.)
What is Wendy escaping, exactly? We don’t know, and one wonders whether she does, really. But she’s on the move, constantly; she even walks fast.
Williams could not be less glamorous in the role: With her hair haphazardly cut and the same cutoff shorts and jacket every day, she looks less like a woman in trouble than an innocent boy overwhelmed by the complexities of life.
In fact, if Williams wasn’t so good in the role, Wendy would be far less sympathetic. But she earns our compassion by soldiering on.
What would we do in a similar situation? Would we make painful choices to keep moving forward? One wonders, at the same time hoping that we never have to find out.
THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Amy Biancolli February 19, 2009
Wendy and Lucyis a short, sweet film with a premise as plain as they come: A girl and her dog drift into town. The girl’s car breaks down. She loses the dog. She spends the rest of the movie trying to fix the car and looking for the dog. And that’s about it.
Wendy’s the girl, Lucy’s the dog, and the town is Portland, Ore. In the movie’s simple and atmospheric opening, she huddles around a fire with other drifters and says she’s headed for Alaska — she hears there’s work there. Another drifter tells her to try Northwestern Fisheries, but don’t mention his name because he destroyed some heavy machinery and split.
Back in her car, an old maroon Accord, Wendy (Michelle Williams) studies maps and counts out the last of her cash before parking for the night in a Walgreen’s lot. In the morning, a security guard (Wally Dalton) raps on the window and tells her to move her car. Huda-bah, huda-buh: the engine won’t turn over. Huda-bah, huh: nope. So the guard helps her push it to the street, just around the corner from an auto mechanic. He gives her directions to the nearest store, and low-key Wendy is on her way.
The plot is, too, though it’s so hushed and unhurried you might not notice it passing. Writer-director Kelly Reichardt and co-writer Jonathan Raymond, who also collaborated on the spare ruminations of 2006’s Old Joy, crafts Wendy’s modest saga from tiny decisions and turns of fortune that resonate monumentally for a young lady on the crumbling lip of destitution. In this context, car trouble is cataclysmic. Kind words from a Walgreen’s guard go a long way. And a judgmental young man at the supermarket (John Robinson, an alum of Gus Van Sant’s Portland in Elephant) is an unmitigated disaster.
In all honesty, it doesn’t seem like much until it’s over. Wendy and Lucy is one of those covertly powerful exercises in minimalism that form their drama from layers of fine sediment — accreting bit by bit, growing thicker and heavier with each speck of dialogue and drifting scene. The key is Williams’ performance, an unobtrusive piece of work that looks affectless and lethargic until the moment, or series of moments, when the weight of all those accumulated micro-tragedies collapses the ground beneath her. (“You look a bit stricken,” observes the guard, just as we’re thinking the same.)
It’s a remarkable feat disguised as nothing at all. All along, she seems to be one thing — a pixie-ish nobody, slouching from one piece of bum luck to another — but winds up as something entirely different. Not until the final credits rolled did I realize I had just watched a grand operatic love story about devotion and the noblest type of sacrifice. Wendy even has a leitmotif — a simple, hopeful tune she hums here and there, just a few bars, as she noodles around town in hoodie and cutoffs.
The gentle yellow dog is everything to her. Everything. Her love for Lucy, commitment to Lucy, dismay at losing her and stubborn drive to find her give the film its forward push, such as it is. Her quest brings her to a dark rim of woodlands (with a superlatively odd cameo from the great, strange Larry Fessenden) and back again, but not before Wendy has looked utter failure square in the face. And when she looks away again, her own has changed immeasurably — it’s older, sadder, scared. In a movie this quiet, in a movie this lean, it counts as a major revelation. So does Williams’ performance, a bare-bones accomplishment of no small heft.
Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is driving to Ketchikan, Alaska, in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the Northwestern Fish cannery, and the start of a new life with her dog, Lucy. When her car breaks down in Oregon, however, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she confronts a series of increasingly dire economic decisions, with far-ranging repercussions for herself and Lucy. WENDY AND LUCY addresses issues of sympathy and generosity at the edges of American life, revealing the limits and depths of people’s duty to each other in tough times.
Based on the short story “TRAIN CHOIR” by Jon Raymond.
Michelle Williams, “Wendy” –
Michelle Williams starred opposite Heath Ledger in Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.” Her performance earned her an Academy Award nomination. She has appeared in Thomas McCarthy’s “The Station Agent” and Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There.” She is presently shooting with Leonardo diCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.”
Will Oldham, “Icky” –
Will Oldham began his career playing a teen preacher in John Sayles’ “Matewan.” He has appeared in Phil Morrison’s “Junebug” and Karl Shefelman’s “Elysian Fields.” As a prolific and influential musician, Oldham has performed under numerous names: Palace, Palace Music, Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, Bonnie Prince Billy and others. Artists who have covered his songs include Johnny Cash and Bjork.
John Robinson, “Andy” –
John Robinson made his acting debut in Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant.” He went on to star in Catherine Hardwicke’s “Lords Of Dogtown,” and play a supporting role in Michael Bay’s “Transformers.” He currently resides in Los Angeles, actively pursuing his own feature writing and directing career.
Walter Dalton, “Security Guard” –
Walter Dalton teamed up with his two brothers in 1960 to form The Dalton Boys, a folk group. In 1970 he was hired as staff writer and regular actor on “The Tim Conway Variety Hour.” He has also written for the Smothers Brothers and Donny and Marie Osmond. Dalton was Excutive Story Editor on the television shows, “Barney Miller,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “James at 15” and “It’s a Living.” On screen Dalton appeared in Richard Donner’s “Assassins” and Dwight H, Little’s “Free Willy 2.”
Will Patton, “Mechanic” –
Will Paton appeared with Angelina Jolie in Michael Winterbottom’s “A Mightly Heart.” He will soon be seen on screen in Tim Disney’s “American Inquisition,” Katherine Brooks’ “Walking Madison” and Jodie Markell’s “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.” On stage, Patton played the lead in Sam Shepherd’s “A Lie Of The Mind.” His performances in Richard Foreman’s “What Did He See” and Shepard’s “Fool For Love” earned him two Obie Awards as Best Actor.
Larry Fessenden, “Man In Park” (and producer on film) –
Larry Fessenden produced Kelly Reichardt’s first feature, “River of Grass,” Ti West’s “House of the Devil,” JT Petty’s “Blood Red Earth,” Ilya Chaiken’s “Liberty Kid,” Douglas Buck’s “Sisters,” Jeff Winner’s “Satellite” and David Gebroe’s “Zombie Honeymoon.” Fessenden is the writer, director and editor of the award-winning-art-horror movies “Habit,” “No Telling” and “Wendigo.” He has operated the production company Glass Eye Pix since 1985, with the mission of supporting individual voices in the arts.
Director Kelly Reichardt –
American landscapes and narratives of the road are themes that run throughout Reichardt’s work. Reichardt’s film OLD JOY, winner of a Tiger Award at the 2007 Rotterdam Festival, is an exploration of contemporary liberal masculinity in the Grand Northwest. Reichardt’s first feature, RIVER OF GRASS, a sun-drenched film noir shot in her hometown in Dade County, Florida, was cited as “one of the best films of 1995” by The Village Voice and Film Comment. Her 1999 short, ODE, is a super-8 reinterpretation of the Herman Raucher novel ODE TO BILLY JOE and features an original soundtrack by Will Oldham