23 February 2009

Review: Wendy & Lucy

Director Kelly Reichardt’s second full-length film is a shy, poetic but not optimistic vignette of a young woman travelling without moving through the fringes of backwater America. Played with piercing tact by Michelle Williams, determined drifter Wendy gets stuck in a tumbleweed Oregon town en route to Alaska, where she hopes to find employment. At her side is dog Lucy, her best friend and emotional anchor, whose disappearance, along with Wendy’s deepening financial straits, derails the young Indiana woman’s journey.

Despite weighing in at only 80 minutes, ‘Wendy & Lucy’ is no blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, nor does it suffer from a lack of closure. It’s paradoxically bolstered by its slow pace (which does occasionally border on becoming dull) – Wendy’s every eyelid flicker emphasizes the slow tick of time in this backwater town, where she’s slowly becoming a cog in the tedious machinations needed to get through these groundhog days. With its soundtrack-free, honest documentation of a town in stasis, ‘Wendy & Lucy’ is matter-of-factly political in its examination of monotonous, grey small-town life, silently questioning how places like this and its inhabitants survive – even the fruit in the supermarket has despaired of its vibrancy. It also takes a timely shot at the bureaucracy of employment – “you can’t get a job without an address; you can’t get an address without an address,” mocks the car-park attendant that Wendy encounters.

Made by a different director, ‘Wendy & Lucy’ might have ended up a clichéd portrait of a vibrant young woman lighting up a small town ‘Little Miss Sunshine’-style, or an emotionally-overwrought revelation of the kindness of strangers to the tearful tune of Bon Iver, but Reichardt’s minimalist direction and Williams’ vulnerable but dignified performance make for a sympathetic treatment of an aborted road movie.

‘Wendy & Lucy’ is an engaging examination of the human condition in times of utter hopelessness. As slow as it is, the film nor its protagonist never wallow in self-pity, or manipulate with overwrought emotionality or closure; if ‘Marley & Me’ was canine cinema’s prize poodle, then ‘Wendy & Lucy’ is its trusty sheepdog, revealing a seldom-tapped side to female companionship.


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