“Wendy and Lucy” 2008 | director: Kelly Reichardt | writer: John Raymond
I am all for a film that is a slice of life character study about a quirky character in an absurdly banal series of situations or something like that. I am also willing to abide some self indulgence in camera work and a lack of structure in narrative if what I get from the picture is an exegesis on some kind of concept about humanity. But what I get from “Wendy and Lucy” is mostly nothing. Thankfully, this is a short film, clocking in at 1 hr 15 m; that said, the abruptness of the ending was still unsatisfying, even though it meant I was free from the tedium of watching this film.
So what happens to Wendy, played very well by Michelle Williams (“Broke Back Mountain”, “Dawson’s Creek”) and her dog Lucy? Wendy is trying to get to Alaska for some transcendental ideal of freedom. I guess working at a fish canning plant is really free or something … anybody? She is disaffected and estranged from most people and her family, whom she calls at one point in a rare scene that borders on elucidating some kind of back story for the character.
Car trouble finds Wendy and Lucy marooned in some bland looking serfdom of the Pacific Northwest; here she finds little help from the locals, save from one hippie burn-out security guard who eventually turns around and helps her out of what I guess is pity (he gives her directions, the use of his cellular phone, and I think $7 to her).
What is the main conflict of the film? (Not that all movies need a big conflict or to be entertaining or to have a purpose for scenes other than to just have them or anything.) Well … Wendy, who we see counting the remaining cash for her trip and realizing that she has over $500, inexplicably decides to steal some dog food. She gets nabbed by a self righteous stock boy who, I guess, lays out the theme of the movie: “If somebody cannot afford to feed their dog then they shouldn’t have one.” The real motivation for this contrived theft is that it separates her from Lucy just long enough to give us a scene where she is processed by the authorities (Dennehy is lacking from this film, so there is no fire-hose treatment). After paying bail (which is much more than the cost of the dog food she stole) she finds that her dog is missing.
The remainder of the movie, the last 45 minutes or so, finds Wendy morosely wandering the unfamiliar town, looking for the pound, trying to find her mutt and get her car fixed. She finds little-to-no help in this endeavor. Eventually she finds Lucy and notices that she is living with what appears to be a “nice” old man. So anyways … she decides to leave Lucy for awhile planning on coming back when she strikes it rich (seriously is there another gold rush in Alaska or something?). She hops a train presumably bound for fortune and glory and that is the end of that.
Everybody seems to love this film but me. I can see potential in this narrative but it seems to lack about 38 minutes of material that might give us a reason to care about Wendy and her plight or to flesh out some kind of meaningful theme from the story. I just can not muster any kind of emotional concern for a presumed clepto-hipster-depressive-girl on a road-trip of self delusion or whatever is going on in the subtext of this movie. To quote the Radiohead song “Fake Plastic Trees”: “It wears me out”