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DRE #444020

Film Review

Wendy and Lucy

Wendy, a young woman with her dog, on her way to Alaska to look for work in the canneries, wouldn't seem to be much of a narrative, but Kelly Reichardt, the director (Old Joy), has fashioned something wonderful, an affecting, sensitive road trip film set in one location. The film opens with Wendy playing with Lucy, while driving to Alaska from her home in Indiana. She stops in a small depressed town in Oregon for the night, and sleeps in her car with Lucy because she is very short of money. She is awakened by a security guard, who tells her that she cannot park overnight, but helps her push her car to the curb when she cannot start it. She discovers that she is out of food for Lucy, so walks to a nearby supermarket with Lucy, whom she ties up outside. She shoplifts the dog food, and is caught by a young stock clerk with prominent crucifix around his neck, who urges the store manager to follow store policy. And Wendy begins to spiral into a series of bad events, culminating with her returning later to find Lucy missing. She is frantic, and begins searching the neighborhood. The security guard, an older man, is revealed as quite kind, gives her advice, and lets her use his cell phone to contact the country dog pound. And later does a wonderful thing, which to me was the most powerful scene in the film. I don't want to reveal more.

Michelle Williams plays Wendy, in a marvelously understated way, with her hair chopped short and dressed in cheap clothes. We watch a woman who makes some bad choices, has some bad luck, is adrift in a mostly uncaring world, but determined to find her beloved dog and continue on to Alaska. Feeling particularly low and needing money, she calls her sister, who is cold and unsympathetic. Money is a constant issue, and we see her painstakingly adding up her expenses in a small ledger. She watches trains roll by, trucks roar by, and it creates the image of someone left behind. There is almost no soundtrack except the sounds of trains and traffic. We see a gritty realism here. Wendy has become that quintessential American loner, on the road, in hard times. Nearly everyone she meets, from the auto repair garage owner, to the security guard, to the sales clerks, seem vulnerable also. Some are kind, some mean and uncaring, and others simply disinterested. There is a melancholy atmosphere in this small town, and by extension, the entire country. I think that Reichardt is making a statement about the state of our society today, and her film could not have been more perfectly timed to our current economic problems and growing unemployment. Wendy and Lucy is also lovely meditation on love, loneliness, loss, and moving on; poignant, but not depressing. I loved this film, the cinematic equivalent of a great short story, and will surely be on my best films list. Just opened at the Embarcadero.

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