'Wendy And Lucy' Offers A Subdued Social Critique

Michelle Williams as Wendy i i

Fenced In: As her financial situation deteriorates, Wendy (Michelle Williams) is forced to make increasingly desperate decisions. Oscilloscope Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Oscilloscope Pictures
Michelle Williams as Wendy

Fenced In: As her financial situation deteriorates, Wendy (Michelle Williams) is forced to make increasingly desperate decisions.

Oscilloscope Pictures

Wendy and Lucy

  • Director: Kelly Reichardt
  • Genre: Minimalist Drama
  • Running Time: 80 minutes

Rated R for rough language.

Michelle Williams as Wendy , with her dog Lucy i i

Wendy's journey to Alaska is further complicated when her traveling companion, Lucy, is taken to the pound. Oscilloscope Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Oscilloscope Pictures
Michelle Williams as Wendy , with her dog Lucy

Wendy's journey to Alaska is further complicated when her traveling companion, Lucy, is taken to the pound.

Oscilloscope Pictures

American indie director Kelly Reichardt makes films about youngish, poorish people with wanderlust. But the stories she tells, and the characters she creates, are so low-key that her movies might be better described as tales of "wanderlike."

Certainly the protagonist of Reichardt's modestly engaging Wendy and Lucy is no worldbeater. Dressed in cutoffs and a hooded sweatshirt, with a dirty bandage on her ankle and her brown hair artlessly cropped, Wendy (Michelle Williams) suggests the great-granddaughter of Tom Joad.

Wendy is fleeing an indifferent Indiana with hopes of a big payday in Alaska, and appears motivated more by what she's leaving than where she's going.

Then the movie's little crisis occurs: Wendy's car gives out, and the young woman is stuck in one of the least glamorous precincts of Portland, Ore. Worse, she loses her traveling companion, Lucy.

Some viewers will remember Wendy's pal from Reichardt's previous film, Old Joy, the story of two longtime but now-distant friends who fail to reconnect during a trek into the Oregon mountains.

Lucy is the director's own dog, and her co-starring role means that Wendy and Lucy has less human interaction than its predecessor. Even when Lucy's around — and she's missing for much of this short feature's running time — the yellow mutt is better at chasing sticks than at discussing the vagaries of life.

Wendy does have occasional conversations, notably with a security guard who pulls his gray hair into a ponytail and with a garage owner who tells one caller that "You are blowin' my mind." (In Reichardt's neo-Appalachian America, most older people seem to be ex-hippies.)

Wendy also encounters police officers, animal-control staff and a hobo played by Old Joy co-star Will Oldham. The alt-country cult musician also contributed the fragile piece of music that's Wendy's theme.

Old Joy was the sort of film that can be described as both ramshackle and overblown; although a few minutes longer, Wendy and Lucy is simpler, with little dialogue and a subdued (if assured) performance from its star, who has left Dawson's Creek very far behind. Williams' Wendy is less than fascinating, but utterly real.

Opening and closing with Depression-evoking shots of freight trains, the movie is an attempt to get just a little closer to Wendy (who first appears as a tiny figure in a large landscape).

It's also a series of portraits of hostile everyday places, from parking lots to dog pounds. Wendy and Lucy is too laconic to be mistaken for a social drama, but it's set in a land whose harshness seems to a require a stronger critique than Reichardt's vignettes.

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