I’ve seen films about genocide at this year’s festival, I’ve seen films about corruption, about terrible crimes, about war and about murder, but nothing cut me to the quick like “Wendy and Lucy,” which is about a girl who loses her dog. The
second third film from Kelly Reichardt, whose superb “Old Joy” was one of the few bright lights on the American indie landscape of the past years, is, like that last feature, deceptively simple and brief. Over the course of 80 minutes, Wendy (a very good Michelle Williams) drives into a shabby Oregon town with her dog, Lucy. Every penny is s precious, so she tries to shoplift some dog food, but she’s caught, and, per the store’s policy and the insistence of an over-zealous young employee, prosecuted. Getting back a few hours later, she finds that Lucy’s missing.
“Wendy and Lucy” is a microscopic tale of suspense about how, when you’ve got next to nothing, seemingly navigable setbacks like a car breaking down or a dog running away become insurmountable catastrophes. When Wendy runs into genial, hippie-ish vagrants by the railroad, one of them “Old Joy”‘s Will Oldham, their stories make her decision to head to Alaska to look for work seems like a good one, like freedom. But she stranded in town when her car won’t start, and while it’s in the shop she has no place to sleep, and she has no phone number to give the pound should Lucy turn up, and without an address she can’t get even a temporary job to sustain herself, which seems an impossibility in the economically depressed area anyway. The people around Wendy are mostly indifferent to her perilous descent into homelessness, with the exception of a security guard at the Walgreen’s by which she’s been staying, whose small acts of kindness and concern are heartrending.
Michelle Williams is in every scene of “Wendy and Lucy,” and ably carries that burden with her dark pixie haircut and cut-offs, she looks frighteningly vulnerable, an indie urchin stuck in circumstances both dire and mundane, her open face registering every frustration, triumph and terror despite her efforts otherwise. Reichardt’s approach in the film is similar underplayed by refusing to wring out easy sentiments from the script, which, like “Old Joy,” is co-written and based on a short story by Jonathan Raymond; her actors; or her style, which is elegant and unobtrusive, the only music Wendy’s own humming, she’s created something of incredible emotional genuineness that’s one of my favorites in the festival.
[Photo: “Wendy and Lucy,” Film Science/Glass Eye Pix, 2008]
+ “Wendy and Lucy” (Festival-Cannes.fr)