From the outset this film is a simple tale of Wendy and her dog on a cross country road trip. Problems arise when her car breaks down and she gets stranded in unfamiliar territory.
From the outset Wendy and Lucy is a simple tale of Wendy (Michelle Williams) and her dog (Lucy) on a cross country road trip. Problems arise when her car breaks down and she gets stranded in unfamiliar territory.
Director Kelly Reichardt has touched on a subject that is at the center of America right now: economics. Wendy has just enough money to complete her journey from Indiana to Alaska (where she is looking for summer work), and that’s if nothing goes wrong. She spends her days driving and playing with her dog, and her nights sleeping in the car. There is the sense that she is on an unplanned trip, and because of this little things have a tremendous effect on Wendy. The problem lies in the fact that she just doesn’t have enough money to deal with the simple problems that arise on long trips in old cars.
One morning her car won’t start, and things go from bad to worse. She gets caught shop lifting dog food by a young employee, only to be tossed in jail just long enough for Lucy to go missing. She then goes looking for her dog with a quiet resolve that is amazing to watch. Michelle Williams’s Wendy is a fully realized character from the start, and through Reichardt’s great direction and Williams’s acting, we never need back story or plot to appreciate Wendy’s plight. Wendy doesn’t go around stumbling into plot points and learning lessons, she just stays focused on finding her dog. The tension comes out of her naivete and unprepared nature, but even then, there is only one scary encounter. Most people are nice to her, and offer as much as their own economic positions allow. This movie is about quiet moments where things go unspoken – and not in that lame “Lost” way, but more like real encounters that any of us would have at a Walgreens or a Shell station. Wendy’s face immediately tells us what’s going on with her character and she never has to say a word.
Along the way, she meets some great characters. Will Oldam‘s homeless drifter is creepy and oddly helpful, telling Wendy where she might find work once she gets to Alaska. Walter Dalton‘s security guard takes an early liking to Wendy, telling her where the dog pound is and letting her use his cell phone. In one scene, he feels so bad that he quietly sneaks some money into her hand and won’t let her give it back. In any other movie, she would look down and find that he had given her at least $100, but in this film she gets $7. And you know that that was a lot for him to give. Will Patton‘s mechanic also tries his best to help Wendy by discounting his fee for working on her car, but even he can’t give away his services.
The film works because of the amazing atmosphere it creates coupled with real human interaction. There is no sentimentality and no dramatic monologue to take you out of the experience. Yes, this might be the first unsentimental dog movie. The pace is slow, but always interesting. Reichardt gives the audience time to take in the scenery, and like all great directors, doesn’t insult our intelligence. The events are shown, and you can read as much or as little into them as you want. The film recalls the atmosphere created by director Monte Hellman in films like Two Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter, with its emphasis on location over plot and small focused story telling. You definitely feel like you’ve met these people before, and they’re all treated fairly and without judgment (except for John Robinson‘s store clerk…but still).
This was one of the more refreshing cinematic experiences I’ve had in awhile. The movie tells a simple story, and the drama is all in the details. See it at Movieland* quickly before it’s gone.
*Unfortunately the onslaught of Watchmen has knocked Wendy and Lucy out of theaters, and now it’s not in RVA anymore. Luckily it will be out on DVD in May (Netflix, Netflix).