Wendy and LucyDirected by Kelly ReichardtStarring Michelle Williams, Wally Dalton and Will PattonRated R*7*Goes well with: Paranoid Park, Old Joy, Doc Hollywood
To call Kelly Reichardt's film Wendy and Lucy “small” is an understatement. The movie was shot for next to nothing, with natural light, in Oregon, and stars Michelle Williams as Lucy, a young woman falling through society's safety net, trying to keep her head above water as things go from bad to worse.
There have been plenty of movies about road trips interrupted by unexpected, extended stays in small-town America, but those are usually feel-good films that end with the protagonist hooking up with the unattainable local hottie, learning some life lessons, discovering what's really important and sticking around for a while. That's not how Wendy and Lucy goes down, and that's not how small towns work these days. Small-town America is hurting, and it's easy to look at this film as an allegory for anyone struggling along the margins. This film takes place several rungs below the Wall Street-versus-Main Street bullshit we hear coming out of Washington.
We never find out very much about Wendy, and that's kind of the idea. She's got very little to her name—just a car, a few hundred bucks and her co-pilot, a golden retriever called Lucy. The two of them have made it to Oregon from the Midwest and are headed north to Alaska, where Wendy hopes to find work. She's clearly been on her own for some time—when she runs into people, she's defensive and prickly. She's someone who's been burned by life, even if we never find out the specifics.
She's got problems and nowhere to go, a situation made only worse when she wakes up one morning and her car won't start. So she's stuck, and one bad—but arguably necessary—decision later, Lucy goes missing. And that, in a nutshell, is Wendy and Lucy, as she spends the rest of the film trying to find her dog.
This is a tragedy far greater than it sounds. Williams is really amazing in this role, sharp and brittle to anyone and everything that confronts her. But her utter despair, her total hopelessness, all of her foiled plans come to a head in this small Oregon town when the only creature who cares for her one way or the other is suddenly gone. We all have attachments to our pets, but this runs deeper than that—for Wendy, there truly is no one else in her life, something confirmed by a phone call to her sister.
So, she's homeless. And dogless. And stuck. You can't get a job without a home address, and even if she had one, there are no jobs to be had in this small town. Unlike Hollywood movies, there is no one to save her from her despair and desperation, and Williams shows us just how much all of this hurts.
All of that said, it has to be pointed out that Wendy and Lucy, heartfelt as it may be, is also very slow. And it isn't a happy movie—that doesn't mean it isn't good, but it does mean that it isn't for everyone, less a movie that you enjoy than one you appreciate. It's a tragic look at how far we'll let the individual slide.
Wendy's gotten to the point where she's so protective and jaded that she can barely recognize an act of kindness when it's offered. Wally Dalton plays an unnamed security guard who offers Wendy the use of his cell phone and even lets her give the animal shelter his number in case her dog shows up. There's no hidden agenda—he sees a young woman in desperate straits and does what little he can to help, perhaps because he knows that he's just a pink slip away from similar circumstances. Still, though that selfless act has genuine warmth, it's not enough to change what's happening to Wendy, who can barely take care of herself, let alone her lost canine companion. Yes, Wendy and Lucy feels frighteningly real, and real life, sadly, doesn't always offer happy endings.