A girl and her dog, stranded in Oregon
by Jason Blair
WENDY AND LUCY: Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Written by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond. Cinematography, Sam Levy. Starring Michelle Williams, Will Patton and Wally Dalton. Oscilloscope Pictures, 2008. R. 80 minutes.
|Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy|
Old Joy, director Kelly Reichardt’s previous film, was as subtle as a passing thought. Shot mostly from a moving car, the film was about two friends drifting in opposite directions who reunite for a weekend in the woods. Using silence and shots of the natural world to great effect, Reichardt examined the frailty of everyday life without attempting to explain it. Watching Old Joy, which was set in and around Portland, you sensed that Reichardt’s formal minimalist style was the perfect remedy to the bombast and hyperkineticism of films today, which rely on outsized effects to hold our attention. You also sensed that if Reichardt could convince a first-rate actor to trust her barely-there material, the result might be something very special.
Wendy and Lucy, like Old Joy, has the metabolism of a snail, with fewer beats per minute than possibly any other film this year. But the film is a quiet revelation due to the performance of Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, I’m Not There) who, for all of 80 minutes, manages to evoke strength, fear and naïveté, often in the same scene. Williams plays Wendy, a pixie-sized drifter from Indiana who gets stranded in Oregon when her car breaks down. When she loses Lucy, her dog and best friend, the separation forces Wendy to engage with the world — and to accept, at least glancingly, the comfort of strangers — in order to recover what she values most.
Like Old Joy, this is an Oregon story — note the cameo by Sometimes a Great Notion — with a particularly Oregon early winter light. I’m completely convinced by this movie, just as I’m convinced that stories like Wendy’s play out every day. During the 24 hours we spend with Wendy, who is trying to get to Alaska, we sense the despair and guilt of a young drifter, but also the grace and intensity of a girl who won’t quit. She befriends exactly two people, a mechanic played by a relaxed Will Patton (Gone in Sixty Seconds, Remember the Titans) and a Walgreens security guard with an earnest ponytail (Walter Dalton). The latter, a merry Tom Bombadil-type, is Wendy’s touchstone throughout the day. After Wendy makes what must be the loneliest visit to an animal shelter ever, it’s the security guard who keeps her spirits up. Why Alaska? “I hear they need people,” she says. “I hear it’s real pretty up there,” he muses. “Yeah,” says Wendy, ever conflicted in the presence of kindness.
Although we’re told virtually nothing about Wendy, the collaboration of director Reichardt and Williams evokes an entire range of personal experience. (The Toronto Film Critics Association selected Wendy and Lucy and Williams for their top film and acting awards.) Like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s turn as Sherrybaby last year, Williams’ performance polishes an already-bright resume. Sherry was looking for a fight at every turn; Wendy just wants to hide.
Wendy and Lucy opens Friday, Feb. 6, at the Bijou.