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Wendy and Lucy: A Slow Portrait of a Stalled Life

The majority of the American public won’t like Wendy and Lucy. It is too quiet, too slow, and too monotonous—why would most people take their hard-earned cash and watch a 75-minute movie about a homeless woman missing her dog? Truth be told, I have no answer. I am not altogether convinced that I “enjoyed” the film. However, there are aspects of the film that I admire, and for the indie moviegoer, this would certainly be one of the more fascinating films of the year.

Wendy (Michelle Williams) has taken her dog Lucy and her rusty car on a trip to Alaska, to get away from her old way of life. Alaska is her goal since… well, she heard they need people. Motivation enough in this economic crisis. The state of the economy is only the beginning of Wendy’s concerns. Her car breaks down in a small town in Oregon, she gets thrown in jail for a night for attempting to shoplift, and when she returns to where she left Lucy, she’s gone. Now, with no money, no place to sleep, and no one to talk to except for a Walgreen’s security officer (Wally Dalton), she must find her dog and pray her car repair does not cost much.

What did this film leave me with? The kindness of small town folk, who cut Wendy breaks whenever they can for the most part. There are also the issues of how people respond to economic crisis, but it does not beat you over the head. In fact, it does not even come close to declaring any sort of point, or even developing characters. We don’t know a thing about Wendy, except she is nice to her dog, hums occasionally, and has a sister who does not want anything to do with her. Michelle Williams plays her so lowkey that her voice never raises over a mumble. Many viewers will not be sympathetic toward Wendy’s plight, wondering why she does not just get a job for a short period of time instead of mooching off of people.

Well, she is not really a mooch, the people around her just sympathize with her desires and her plight. For me, the dog plotline is secondary—perhaps its key reason for being in the film is to show that Wendy can be kind. Kelly Reichardt is the writer/director, and the film lives in a world of quiet, with long tracking shots and very few lines of dialogue unless necessary. I wondered if the film would work while muted; I imagine it would. It’s the type of film that leaves you with feelings and thoughts, rather than with a remembrance of a story you were told. I was not even particularly entertained, though for the most part, I was compelled. Its short length is merciful, for I feel this ultra-economic delivery of the tale would have grown even more tedious with any more additional time. And while we recognize that the tedium and the slow and dreary struggles are our life, it will be met with a resounding snore by many. I admired its aims, so I did not snore at it… however, the most excitement I can get from it on a visceral level is merely a shrug. It works more as a project in film economy than as a movie.

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~ by russellhainline on January 18, 2009.

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