As a simple story about a young woman having a hard time of it, Wendy and Lucy is a bit irritating at times. But after viewing this quiet little movie directed and co-written by indie darling Kelly Reichardt, I sat with it and mulled it over for a few weeks. Only then did I realize how effective it is at capturing the bitter realities and melancholy that exists for those who live at or below the poverty lines and on the edges of our society.
It's certainly a downer — but a superbly rendered downer that may ultimately be seen as a cinematic snapshot of the times we're living in. Reichardt and her star, the impressive Michelle Williams, succeed at capturing a certain downtrodden vibe that's in the air nowadays and for that I can forgive it for being, well, boring. To see where I think it soars and where it stumbles, just read more.
You'll likely hear a lot of buzz around Williams's performance and it's deserved. She plays the role of Wendy, a sullen young woman living in her car as she makes her way across the country on her way to Alaska where she's heard there are jobs to be had. The movie opens in a small Oregon town where Wendy becomes stranded. It's near the end of Wendy's odyssey, evidenced by her dwindling cash pile and the breakdown of her car. Williams effortlessly portrays this young woman, about whom we know so little, in such a sympathetic way, you can't help but feel for her. We watch her encounter one disaster after another (including losing her adorable companion, Lucy the dog) and her frustration is palpable.
Reichardt takes full advantage of the Northwest setting, giving the movie a lush green but gritty realism which enhances the minimalist plot. Oh, and what little plot there is. I do wonder if the movie would have felt as real if some more detail and background were added to the character of Wendy herself. We're forced to get by with little hints here and there about who this girl is and how she got into such a terrible predicament through things like a quick pay phone call to a family member and small discussions here and there with a kindly security guard.
Wendy is a drifter, a free spirit with no clear place in our society. She doesn't really want to find success somewhere and she seems pissed off about it. Admittedly, I left the movie with a brain full of frustrating questions like, "But how does one so young and promising end up in her car with dog miles away from home? How does a young lady like that get it in her head the only jobs to be had are in Alaska? Where are her parents? Where are her friends?" But I suppose that's probably the point.