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USA 2008
Directed by
Kelly Reichardt
80 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Wendy And Lucy

Synopsis: Wendy (Michelle Williams) is driving to Alaska hoping to find work at the fish cannery in summer. With her is her faithful dog Lucy. When Wendy’s car breaks down in Oregon, through a series of events created by Wendy out of desperation and foolishness, Lucy goes missing. Wendy’s life starts to unravel, as she runs low on cash, desperately searches for her dog and depends on the kindness of strangers.

This small art house film has won a few obscure awards and no surprise that several of them are for William’s powerful performance. She virtually shoulders this film for its entire runtime, delivering a sensitive performance as a lost, estranged and desperate young woman. Coming to public attention in Brokeback Mountain (2005) Williams really shows her acting ability here, and I wondered whether she evoked the loss of her child’s father, Heath Ledger, to get in touch with the subtle, internalized but profound emotions that she is able to convey simply through a look.

The word that springs to mind for me in this film is “evocative”. The opening scene features a simple shot of Wendy throwing a stick for Lucy, humming as she walks through a wood adjacent to a train line, where freight trains endlessly rumble past. This recurring motif of trains evokes sense of wandering people, lost to their families and searching for a safe haven. This seems to be Wendy’s plight, brought poignantly home in a scene in which she rings her indifferent brother.

We sense Wendy’s constant vulnerability, especially when Lucy heads into the woods and Wendy comes across a group of potentially-threatening roughnecks around a forest campfire. We feel for her rootlessnesss when her only means of freshening up is in a service station washbasin.

Though the story is “small”, like many such films it is ultimately about larger issues of humanity and compassion. When Wendy sleeps in her car, she is told it is not permissible by a Walgreen security guard (Wally Dalton), soon to be her only small toe-hold in the town. The kindness of this reticent man is beautifully understated, yet compassion pours out of him. The local car mechanic (Will Patton) is less compassionate, failing to see the dire straits the non-communicative Wendy is in. In other episodes homeless men bring empty cans to the recycling depot where Wendy joins them. As an audience we are made aware of the vulnerable fringe of society, those marginalised people whose ranks Wendy is rapidly joining, due to vicissitudes of fate.

As concerns the dog Lucy, much is made of Wendy’s frantic search for her only friend. Dog lovers will really relate to this and perhaps she represents that tenuous thread of friendship which we all need to keep afloat. There is a most unexpected surprise at the end, perhaps showing hope for Wendy insofar as she is maturing and thinking of something outside of herself.

Wendy And Lucy is a “slow-burn” film that really grows on you as you reflect on it later. It makes you painfully aware of displaced, lost and lonely people reaching out, its minimalist style well suiting the film’s poignantly melancholy mood. Fortunately Reichardt sticks to a very economical running time, one perfectly suited to such a fragile vignette of life.




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