Wendy and Lucy (2008) dir. Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Michelle Williams, Wally Dalton, Will Patton
The relationship between man/woman and dog has produced some beautiful films over the years. Kelly Reichardt’s acclaimed film strips out anything not essential to the journey of Wendy, a transient single girl and her trusty canine companion, Lucy, producing a transcendental minimalist cinema experience.
Reichardt’s careful pacing falls into the, for lack of a better term, ‘not-much-happens’ genre of indie films. And there’s a lot of these films lately, but an honest, immersive and performance from Michelle Williams elevates “Wendy and Lucy” above most others.
In fact, "Wendy and Lucy" more in common with Vittorio De Sica’s “Umberto D”, the 1952 Italian neo-realist classic about an elderly Italian man and his Jack Russell. Like De Sica’s hero, Wendy is jobless and near penniless and only has her dog to share her love with. Wendy does have a car though and is on a journey to Alaska where apparently there are jobs waiting for her. She wanders into a small Oregon town for a rest in a Walgreens parking lot, but when she awakens her car won’t start. With barely enough cash in her wallet as she needs for the trip, this is a huge roadblock.
While her car's in the shop she makes a crucial mistake of trying shoplift some kibble for Lucy and gets caught. Forced to leave her behind at the store she spends the night in the police station, and of course, when she gets out, Lucy is gone, nowhere to be found. The search becomes an emotionally draining journey, helped through a random friendship with the Walgreen’s security guard - an elderly man, who recognizes the genuine goodness in Wendy, a legitmate victim of life's unfortunate circumstances.
Michelle Williams has one of those embodiment performances and we yearn so badly for her to turn things around and make it to Alaska. Even though she’s a transient person, we don’t doubt she’ll make it. The careful close-ups of her notebook mathematically detailing the expenses she needs to incur to get to Alaska show there’s determination and forethought in her journey. And so knowing how much she has in her wallet, and how much she needs to get there, every time she has to pay a cabbie, take a bus, or any expenditure of money hurts us a little bit too.
With such sparseness in the story, oddly enough it's the ambient sounds of the town that moves to the forefront. We find ourselves noticing the humming of the fluorescent light blubs in the Shell station bathroom, the shuffling of feet on the ground when Wendy walks, or the omnipresent train rattle which echoes in the distance. And so it’s never quiet for the audience, we’re constantly stimulated by something, no matter how banal.
The joy of “Wendy and Lucy” is in this minutiae, point-of-view filmmaking at it’s best. The finale is one of those optimistic yet tragic moments, a painful decision Kelly makes for the good of the dog. With such narrative minimalism the impact of this melodramatic scene is multiplied to a multi-hanky moment putting an exclamation point on this powerful film.