Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Films of Kelly Reichardt: Wendy & Lucy (2008)

Wendy and Lucy (2008) 
Directed by: Kelly Reichardt.
Written by: Jonathan Raymond & Kelly Reichardt.
Starring: Michelle Williams (Wendy), Lucy (Lucy the Dog), Walter Dalton (Security Guard), Will Oldham (Icky), John Robinson (Andy), John Breen (Mr. Hunt), Deirdre O'Connell (Deb - voice), M. Blash (Dan - voice), Will Patton (Mechanic), Larry Fessenden (Man in Park).
In Wendy & Lucy, Kelly Reichardt has a made a subtly emotional film – one that in 80 short minutes, will likely leave you in tears. Like Old Joy, the film doesn’t spell everything out for the audience – but gives them more than enough that they can intuit everything they need to know about Wendy – played brilliantly by Michelle Williams – why she’s on the road, and her lot in life. If you’re like me, you will find yourself thinking about Wendy for the rest of your life – especially, if she ever comes back.
Michelle Williams is, of course, one of the great actresses currently working – and her performance here is one of her very best. She plays a woman from Indiana, driving to Alaska because she thinks she’s going to do some work up there. Her only companion in her beat-up old car is Lucy – her beloved dog. The movie takes place entirely in a small Oregon town over the span of a couple of days. Wendy’s car breaks down, and so she needs to get it repaired – but of course, the mechanic isn’t open at that time. She goes to grocery store – and gets caught shoplifting and is brought into the police station to pay a small fine – while Lucy is tied up out front. When she finally gets out, Lucy is gone. For the next few days, she does everything she can to try and get her car fixed, and try and find Lucy.
That is the entirety of the movie – it’s another of those Reichardt movies in which some will complain that nothing happens in. But the importance of the story is in the way Reichardt tells it – and the way Williams performs it. We never find out why Wendy is running away to Alaska – it’s not something people do unless they are trying to get away from something, and a phone call home halfway through gives us some idea as to why she may be running (it’s telling, I think, that she spends more time talking to her brother-in-law than she does to her sister). Wendy is one of the fringes of society – someone who has to keep track of every expense in a little notebook, and if an emergency costing a few hundred dollars comes along, she is in trouble. Reichardt made the film in 2008, as the Financial Crisis was just hitting – but the in the years after there would certainly be more Wendy’s in America.
Over the course of the movie, one bad thing after another happens to Wendy – nothing truly awful, nothing she cannot deal with (a scary encounter in the park comes close, but not quite). Really, other than a kindly security guard – who wakes her up one morning to tell her she cannot park there – and then helps her push her car into the street – the people she meets in town aren’t all that nice. They aren’t mean per se – many of them are just doing their jobs – but that doesn’t help Wendy very much, and contributes to her situation (the worst is probably the kid who catches her stealing at the store, who has the kind of black and white moral outlook only a naïve kid can have).
Reichardt observes Wendy through all of this – and Williams does a brilliant job at playing her. This is not a show off movie star performance in any way – it’s a vanity free performance from Williams, who fits right in alongside everyone else in the film. Her performance is key though – and shows how even in roles like this, it’s better to have a pro in them, someone who can convey so much without seemingly trying at all.
The final scene in the film is a heartbreaker. You know it’s probably coming, but still, it’s as moving as anything I have seen in a film regarding an animal. And what’s more, it feels earned, rather than just being manipulative. It’s a final scene that has haunted me ever since I saw Wendy and Lucy more than a decade ago – and watching it again, it haunted me all over again. It is the perfect ending to a subtle, perfect film.

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