Wendy and Lucy

Wendy and Lucy movie poster
MPAA rating: R
Genre: Independent, Drama
Michelle Williams stars in this indie film about an unemployed woman on the road who loses her beloved dog.
Starring: Michelle Williams, Will Patton, Will Oldham
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Running time: 1:20
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Editorial Review

We remember movies in moments: A match is blown out, and turns into the Sahara ("Lawrence of Arabia"). A ruined Chaplin smiling at the end of "City Lights."

Or in "Brokeback Mountain," when Michelle Williams's character, Alma, sees her husband kiss another man, her face becomes a map of fear, loathing and a collapsing future.

"Wendy and Lucy," is a deliberately spartan tone poem of need and desperation. And it stars Williams in a role that is one long moment.

Wendy is trying to make her way from Indiana to Alaska, because she has a vague promise of work in a fish-packing plant. Wendy's battered self-respect is something that seems to await many of us, just around the next downhill corner on the economic avenue.

When her Honda breaks down, she's faced with repair bills she can't pay. Wendy steals food for her dog, Lucy, and she becomes the victim of a self-righteous store employee: "If a person can't afford dog food, they shouldn't have a dog!" Wendy later searches desperately for Lucy, who disappeared while she was under arrest.

It's the loss of Lucy that brings Wendy closest to the edge. But the missing dog also saves her humanity: There's nothing like suffering to make one self-absorbed, but Wendy remains contained because she has something, someone, to worry about.

For all its virtues, "Wendy and Lucy" seems like the most overrated of art movies. Yes, it's obscure and distancing and makes you pay attention. Williams's performance is nuanced, moving and well worth any awards she gets. But Wendy is also anonymous. We are provided almost nothing about her background. She could be anyone and her circumstances anyone's.

Which, of course, is writer Kelly Reichardt's point. But are the economically distressed defined strictly by their circumstances? Is poverty really just a condition? Such an approach deprives Wendy, already deprived of almost everything else, a narrative, something that would make her singular and incontrovertibly human. We get the whole point. We just don't get the whole woman, despite a performance that puts flesh on words and pictures.

-- John Anderson (Jan. 30, 2009)

Contains vulgarity.