Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Written by: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Michelle Williams, Will Patton, John Robinson, Wally Dalton, Larry Fessenden
Kelly Reichardt’s brand of downbeat Americana, so manifest in the nostalgia and disconnectedness of the two men in Old Joy, fits well with Michelle Williams’s forlorn, destitute performance in Wendy and Lucy. Both the film and its predecessor are based on Jonathan Raymond’s short stories, giving each film a loose, miniaturist quality that makes each verge on character study without neglecting context. The eponymous Wendy (Williams) finds herself drifting to Alaska from Indiana with her companion pet dog Lucy when her car breaks down in a small town in Oregon. Thus begins the muted, poignant portrait of a destitute and resilient young woman unmoored from a stable socioeconomic status with only her dog and herself for steadiness. So desperately attached is Wendy to Lucy that the dog’s disappearance causes her strongest displays of emotion and most crucial decision at the end.
The always politically-minded Reichardt is less concerned with the whys than the hows of Wendy’s situation. She’s beset by petty parking laws, suspicious clerks, the general indifference held by those with a place against those without. She’s lost for the first time in her life between social strata, in the cracks currently plaguing so many in this economic downturn. And she’s far more anonymous than the high-minded, well planning protagonist of Into the Wild; lacking street smarts or a comfortable milieu, Wendy is vulnerable where she should be sneaky, sullen and self-contained when she should be gregarious with those in a similar plight. For all of the distress and despondency in Wendy and Lucy, there are still moments of bittersweetness and hope. Some incidental details, like Wally Dalton’s sympathetic security guard only being able to spare a few dollars for Wendy, feel true to life in their negotiations between ideals and reality. Like in Old Joy, such national iconography as the woods (and here, also the train) bring possibilities, escapes, and, yes, changes, to those willing to move. Doggedly independent, Reichardt’s modest film speaks for a wider set of vital, contemporary experiences that go generally underreported in American cinema.