Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wendy and Lucy

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008) [8]

Once again, Reichardt has created another insightful, minimalist neo-realist film full of subtle moments that tell a lot more than they show. Instead of the male bonding metapyshics of Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy is on the surface a simpler tale of a woman and her dog. Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a young woman on her way to a cannery job in Alaska on a shoestring budget, travelling only with her dog Lucy. While in Oregon, a series of events occur to her that push her to her breaking point: getting arrested for shoplifting, having her car break down, and losing her dog. Williams handles all this is in a supremely subtle yet affecting way. The increasing complications of her predicament seem to put her in a state of a near breakdown but Williams plays Wendy with a inward stoicism that won't allow her. It creates a performance that allows the viewer to empathize while never being emotionally manipulative. This is especially true of the ending, which is emotional but never pulls emotional strings the way a Hollywood film would have. It's the strength of Williams's performance as well as the film's simple yet effective scenes that make this a profound film.

Some reviews have brought up the sociopolicial commentary of the film and just who Wendy is. The only questionable point I have with the film is this. Much is never told of who exactly Wendy is and why she is going to Alaska. On the surface, it appears that Wendy is a drifter, attempting to scrape by on her way to a better job, sleeping in her car with her dog and getting every penny out of her meager funds. The film has an undercurrent of showing a different side of America, of people at the bottom end of the economic ladder. The film is full of moments with other characters barely scraping by, especially the moments with Wendy and the security guard (Walter Dalton), a guy doing a thankless job because it's all he can get. And yet there are points of Wendy's character that don't fit this paradigm. From her wardrobe to her meticulous planning to the phone conversation with her family back home, there's this idea within me that makes Wendy a dropout more than a drifter. More than being stuck on the bottom rung of the ladder, Wendy seems to have placed herself there by choice. I'm not sure if that's completely clear, but it creates this conflict of authenticity in her character. I guess the point would be does this hamstring the film? When all's said and done, not that much. Wendy and Lucy's strengths far outnumber one somewhat minor point of contention.

No comments: