Wendy and Lucy ****
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond
Michelle Williams as Wendy
Will Patton as Mechanic
Wally Dalton as Security Guard
"Wendy and Lucy" features perhaps the finest female performance I have seen all year. A performance of such raw naturalness and of heartbreaking realism, all taking place within the confines of a film maker who finds poetry behind the camera. And this is a pleasant surprise for me after Kelly Reichardt's last film, the overrated "Old Joy," which I found underwritten and trite. And there isn't much different between the two films in terms of approaches. Both films tackle bare-bones material and very simple plotlines. "Old Joy" was about two friends who take a trip to the woods after several months of not seeing each other. "Wendy and Lucy' is about a young woman looking for her dog. But there was something missing from 'Old Joy" that is present in "Wendy and Lucy," and that is Michelle Williams.
Williams already has some acclaim from her Oscar nominated performance in "Brokeback Mountain," but when it comes to emotion she goes an easy route in that film. But here she is given a character that she is able to explore with a more subtle nature. "Brokeback Mountain" was made to win awards, but "Wendy and Lucy" was made to explore this character, and her relationship with the only thing that she has left-her dog. Wendy is almost impoverished, and taking a trip across country to start a new life in Alaska. The only three things she has is a little over five hundred dollars, her late 80's make car, and her dog Lucy. At the start of the film we see Wendy playing with Lucy in a field, clearly finding her dog to be the best thing in her life. When her car breaks down and she runs out of dog food, Wendy ties Lucy up outside a grocery store and goes inside to smuggle some food out. She is caught and brought to jail, but when she returns four hours later Lucy is gone. She then goes on a trip to the pound, but they are not helpful. She makes posters and hangs them up everywhere. She sleeps in her car, and when the car goes into the shop to get fixed she relies on the kindess of an old security guard in front of a Walgreens.
There isn't much of a story here but Michelle Williams moves the story along, giving us small hints of her past through subtle looks and glances. There are scripted hints-such as a phone call to her sister, who continues to think that she is calling for money-but for the most part its in the performance where the emotion lies. When Lucy is missing, its the strain in which Wendy calls her name that gets more and more desperate, more and more scared, that we can only imagine that Wendy's life would be like without her. It's this performance that really seals "Wendy and Lucy" as being a great film, and the bare-bones material is given new life. Where the acting was wooden and dry in 'Old Joy," it is rather uplifting here. It's beautiful to watch her walk down the streets, and Reichardt works well with landscapes, giving serene forest settings a creepy vibe as Wendy searches for Lucy. This little town that Wendy is stuck in in gray and depressing-almost like a ghost town. I am reminded of the Last Judgement, with Wendy's entire life being put to a standstill in this drab location.
Reichardt's film really had an odd effect on me, and I found so much beauty in this little film-and little is right. Not only is it 80 minutes long, but it contains very little dialouge and was probably made with a very small budget. But its a piece that proves that a film doesn't need special effects or A-list actors to pack a punch-it needs talent in every section of it. And as for the ending-yes, it is somewhat depressing, but not in the way that you would think. The final revelation is not only fitting, but it is also fully satisfying. When we leave Wendy's life, along with the rather haunting melody that she hums throughout the film, we finish on a note of sadness, but also a note of hope and promise. Perhaps Wendy will return to this place one day, and we can only hope. Because the irony is, in this drab little town there are some of the best people that Wendy ever met.