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Realism in cinema is a tricky thing. There are movies (a certain 2008
film with a much talked-about comeback performance comes to mind) which
think that 'challenging' Hollywood conventions, creating 'convincing'
characters in an artificial and obvious fashion, and using, god forbid,
the expected 'documentary style' which if handled by a mediocre
director (hint: initials are D.A.) can be laughable is realism. Then
there is 'gritty realism'. These movies are hopeless, pointless,
graphic, miserable movies focused on showing us an artificial reality
so miserable and violent that the end result is often not worth
anything at all. Basically a fifteen year old loner's sense of real
life. Expect dark photography and 'jarring' editing. Most pleasing of
the realist cinema came from Europe starting in the fifties, of course
anybody reading this should know about the various movements which
applied it and those which didn't.
"Wendy and Lucy", from director Kelly Reichardt, is not even reminiscent of any of the realist trends in cinema. Beyond that, it doesn't even acknowledge or care about conventions and the audiences expectations. This movie is just real. It confronts you not with a Hollywood version of reality, but a relentless, true version of reality. Nothing much really happens in this film, and it only lasts for eighty minutes, but those eighty minutes were, forgive me for using a word I don't care for in the context of film criticism, transcendent. This is the most tasteful, wonderful small-scale film I've seen in ages, and although I prefer three films from 2008 ("My Winnipeg", "JCVD", and "WALL-E", yes, "WALL-E"), "Wendy and Lucy" is really something special, and obviously the work of a contemporary master. I must see more of Reichardt's work.
The film is 'simple' only on a surface level, and the same goes for the direction. If I were to call this film formally simple I would be ignoring the fabulous photography and Reichardt's sophisticated handling of color, light, space, and imagery. Some of the shots here are absolutely gorgeous. The difference between this and most other films which attempt a similar air is that there is no attempt at realism, there just IS realism. It's a beautiful film, and profoundly sad as well, but not in a manner which depressed me or made me think the world was ugly and horrible for everyone. Not much really happens: Wendy's on her way to a potentially lucrative summer job along with her dog Lucy, and runs into trouble on the way. Simple things, common things, but for this character, no, this person, the consequences are grave. Economically, but also emotionally. Michelle Williams gives the best female lead performance of 2008 as Wendy, and not for a second did I remember that I was watching Michelle Williams. Wendy was on screen, Wendy was going through what she was going through.
As mournful and sad as the haunting tune Wendy hums throughout the movie, but also not a film with any disdain for humanity, "Wendy and Lucy" is quite magnificent in its own way. Humble, honest, and real, unlike so many movies which try to be or think they are, this is pure cinema with all its joy and all its pain. Truly mesmerizing.
This was a good indy movie, I guess, for the American apparel set. I
lived in portland, and Yes, I have lived out of my car before when I
was poor and moving. So I get it, being young in America is hard. Being
young is hard.
But it is much harder if you're stupid. And the main character in Wendy and Lucy is stupid. She is self centered, impulsive and totally unsympathetic. Having lived in the Portland area, I know that it is the most receptive community to homeless youth in the country. If she couldn't hack it there, then she was really too stupid to live.
So, while the film was beautifully done, it was hard for me to watch. I knew y'all would be touting her and seeing her as God's gift to earth. In reality she is another wasted symbol for twenty somethings to venerate. It's easier for people to worship androgynous scenesters than to develop a value system. I know plenty of girls like that who have messed up their lives stealing. The point isn't that "the Man" got her, it's that She "got" herself.
And the sad part is, most people who watch the movie will perpetuate the victim mentality and love little Wendy. They'll emulate her poor manners, dirty clothes and poor planning. It becomes cool. Then we have to actually live and work with these people!
I fear for "indy" art. Why can't Americans make movies like the French, where asocial losers can die in the end?
Wendy and Lucy (2008)
**** (out of 4)
Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a young woman struggling to try and reach Alaska with her dog Lucy. When Wendy's car breaks down in a small town she gets arrested for trying to steal food and when she's released her dog is missing. This is a rather remarkable little film that was shot on 16mm and every bit of it looks like the small budget the filmmakers were working with. I remember the term "keep it simple" was something told to young filmmakers and that's certainly the case here but the amazing performance by Williams makes this film so much more than what you would probably expect going in. The movie isn't really about anything as it really doesn't tell us anything about Wendy and it really doesn't let us get to know her. We know she loves her dog and we know she's trying to get to Alaska to get a job. As to why she's going on this journey or why she feels the need to do anything are never explored but that's not a bad thing. So many times a small movie like this gets lost because it tries too hard to be smart with the plot or tries to hard to make it seem bigger than the story actually is. This movie, without the credits, runs around 75-minutes, which is extremely short by today's standards but I thought it was great that the director didn't feel the need to be forced into adding stuff just so the movie could run longer. Williams' performance is one of the best of the year and is certainly the best work I've seen from her. This entire movie is based around her as she's in every scene and she is the one who must deliver the goods in order to keep the film moving. The low budget doesn't allow for a music score or anything flashy so instead we've just got Williams to make everything work and she does exactly that. It's rather amazing to see she has very few lines of dialogue yet we always know how she's feeling just by looking at her. Williams' eyes and face tell us everything we need to know that there's really no point in using dialogue because that would just take something away from the story. It's well known that Williams didn't wash her hair while filming the movie and you can see this in her raw performance. Will Patton and Wally Dalton give nice supporting performances in their small roles. I can honestly see many people walking out of this movie calling it one of the worst ever made because it's not the type of film that gives you answers. This is the type of movie that has a raw look and raw feelings behind it and it's up to the viewer to take away what they see in the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Granted, Michelle Williams is pleasing to look at; she's a handsome woman and her tomboy role as a drifter in Wendy and Lucy makes her appear as cute as a button. Granted, her quiet, passive, all too real performance in this film is superb. Granted, the scenery in this movie is beautiful. So why isn't this a great movie? Well, because NOTHING HAPPENS. This is a full ninety minutes of a girl looking for her lost dog and nothing else. The other characters in this movie are one dimensional. Even the great acting of Williams can't outdo the holes in this one. There are so many questions unanswered. Why did she shoplift dog food if she had the money to pay for it? Why didn't she make more of a stink about her dog being abandoned as the cops drove her away? What exactly was the story with the mechanic? Was he ripping her off or telling the truth? What exactly did happen in the woods when the creepy guy confronted her as she was sleeping? How come the dog pound didn't have any record of the dog being immediately adopted? Why was she drifting around in the first place? Was she really planning to go to Alaska in nothing but a hoody and half pants? Huh, what happened? All this ambiguity may make for a sense of the confused nature of reality, but what it doesn't make for is interesting cinema. This is a notable experiment in moodiness, but it won't leave you thinking about very much.
Anyone who has travelled alone, with a vague idea of why, and with only
an inkling of where they are going can completely relate to this film.
I have done this before and I was immediately (re)immersed in the
feelings of emptiness and openness that one in such a predicament can
experience. It's not a bad feeling but it is a complete feeling of
aloneness. I never travelled with a pet but I can fully understand the
part that Wendy's beloved Lucy played in the completion of Wendy as a
whole. The desperation and loss that one might feel when that only
thread of connectedness has been severed is so beautifully and
understatedly played by Michelle Williams. She amazes me again and
again in her roles. I sincerely hope there is a legion of us out there
that appreciate how talented this unassuming wonder of an actor is.
This movie broke my heart. If it doesn't break yours, there is something wrong with you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wendy is a young woman who takes out from Indiana in her old Honda
Accord with the goal of going to Alaska where, she has been told, there
are jobs in the canning industry. Wendy's traveling companion is her
dog Lucy. In a small Oregon town Wendy's car breaks down, she is caught
shoplifting, and she loses her dog. Without friends or family or a job
what does this young girl do? That's the story, with few details left
I usually like quiet movies, but this one proves that I have my limits. My irritation with the movie and with Wendy began from an early scene that is a long take simply of Wendy walking along with Lucy while humming a nondescript tune. That scene went on so long that I thought it would resolve into something of import, but in fact it merely presaged many such scenes. Perhaps these scenes are there to show how rootless and adrift Wendy was, but I got enough in the first scene. So, a good part of the movie has Wendy walking around while another significant chunk is spent on Wendy's wandering all over the town and countryside yelling "Lucy," after her lost dog. The damn dog was clearly taken, leash and all, from the bike rack. Wendy's interminable and fruitless calling out grated on me to the point that I almost bailed.
I got so frustrated with Wendy's bad decisions that I wanted to scream at her. Her first bad decision was to undertake the trip in the first place. If she was desperate enough for work and ambitious enough to undertake the trip, surely she could have vectored her desire for work and her energy in a more constructive way. OK, young people do impulsive, stupid things, but rarely do they persist in the face of the stark reality that Wendy was up against.
I was equally irritated by the people that Wendy dealt with. Why didn't one of them at least try to talk to her about her situation--it was clear that she was at sea. Wendy was neither a druggie nor mentally ill. If you came across such a non-threatening, attractive young woman in such straits, would you not at least want to see what you might do to help? Is the safety net in the US so weak that there was no social service that could be called upon? The friendly security guard has nothing but my scorn. He saw exactly what was happening and what did he do? In a guilt-appeasing magnanimous gesture he solemnly handed Wendy six dollars.
The ending can be nothing but depressing. From Wendy's walk in the woods we see that it is autumn, and she is heading to Alaska with no suitable gear, not even a sleeping bag. Does she have the personality or wits to survive? I think not. Within a few days or weeks she will be homelessness or dead--take your pick.
I like Michelle Williams and she does give this loser a good try; her performance is a positive.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Indiana plates. Wendy Carroll(Michelle Williams) drove her last rites
car all the way from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Now she's somewhere in Oregon
with Indiana plates. That's a lot of miles to end up with a dead Honda
and a lost dog. While most girls her age are matriculating through
college, this young, enigmatic woman is driving to Alaska so she can
work on a "slime line", a cannery, possibly at Northwestern Fisheries,
noted for their great lodging, according to a hobo she met at the
trainyard. White and, in all likelihood, middle class(she owns a car),
Wendy seems headed in the wrong direction. Evanston, Illinois, after
all, is a much less taxing journey. She should be lodging at a
dormitory, getting an education, getting stoned, with other
undergraduates, not waiting for a bottle return line to move with
burnouts and castoffs, holding a plastic bag full of cans she picked up
alongside the road. Self-abnegation isn't just for boys. Wendy's
journey plays like the female answer to Jon Krakauer's "Into the
Wild"(later filmed by Sean Penn). "Wendy and Lucy" provides fewer clues
about the young woman's past than Christopher McCandless' own story of
renouncement from civilized living, but she has a past, in which the
audience can glean off of. When Wendy calls back home, her
brother-in-law picks up, not her parents. There is no mention of
parents from neither he nor Wendy's sister, which they'd undoubtedly
broach as a deterrent against Wendy's not-so-subtle hints that she's
strapped for cash. The Honda Accord is her last worldly possession.
Without wheels, her cross-country trip stops being an adventure;
without wheels, she's a tramp.
But she's not that kind of tramp, a loose woman. A woman set on selling her body leaves the dog at home. In the opening scene, Wendy repeatedly throws a stick for Lucy, a retriever mix, to fetch, which the filmmaker captures from an objective distance in a slow tracking shot. It makes Wendy look small, like a little girl. The dog has the effect of downplaying her chronological age and sex appeal. In a matching scene, later on in the film, from the same objective distance, Wendy looks even more vulnerable, more so like a little girl, looking for her beloved pet, with the canine phantom haunting the frame. Those pet names for Lucy: "Lu", "Luce", "baby girl", all add to the effect of her chasity. Only in the privacy of a convenience store restroom, as Wendy lifts up her jacket, exposing some skin in the process, are we made aware of her body as a potential commodity, ripe for exploitation. After Wendy loses Lucy, she's befriended by a Walgreens security guard, who had previously chased her off his lot. The presence of that dog just might be the deciding factor for the old man when he broaches Wendy with a paternal interest, rather than an erotic one, in Wendy. Judging by the old man's heavily made-up girlfriend, he's still sexually active. The filmmaker communicates this point through this donut icon on a diner window, as Lucy makes fliers for her lost pooch on the diner's copy machine. This seemingly random image could be construed as a metaphor(a vagina) since it's introduced right after the scene, in which the guard allows Wendy to use his cell number as the contact point for the pound. Does he want something in return? As a security guard in an economically depressed town, the pay must be low, but the six measly dollars he gives Wendy when they part ways communicates a sort of frustration that she got the better of the deal.
Wendy loves her dog. But she's not willing to be a whore for car repairs and dog food. Had Wendy rolled into town with a young child, she'd seem more like a woman to the security guard. Their relationship might have been more symbiotic, more adult. But since Wendy brought along her dog, the security guard probably feels that a physical relationship with this stranger would be akin to f****** his granddaughter.
A thin little film with appeal only to those who feel sentimental about
dogs. I imagine the film was written down to a very small budget
indeed, and good luck in that it garnered some praise. But the film has
little going for it - Michelle Williams offers little in the way of
performance, and is not over-burdened with charisma.
So - not much plot, very little dialogue, no insights into either Wendy or the human condition, a fairly dreary dog, and what have you got? Not a lot.
A review has to be ten lines long, and I am explaining that to use up the space - there really isn't much else to say about this tiny epic.
Do you remember that rather mundane story told to you, during the last
family outing, by your somewhat tipsy, uninteresting cousin, where your
attention waned as the story went on? That's Wendy and Lucy. Except the
story goes on for 80 minutes, and you have to pay to hear it. The
film's heart is in the right place, and Michelle Williams gives a fine
performance, though the character she plays is about as pedestrian as
One thing you can't knock the film for is a sense of verisimilitude. Every thing that happens is completely believable, in the same way that your morning routine of getting up, making breakfast, and brushing your teeth is very real. One doesn't doubt that this young woman's mini-adventure has been experienced by countless people, countless times. But is it interesting? Not really. There is barely enough material in this script to make up decent short film, never mind a feature. And while it is generous to say the film deals in a certain minimalism, in reality it seems to typify the plot less, ordinary-people cliché of "festival darling" films. A superior film, in my opinion, was the recent "Ballast", which walks the line of minimal plot and ordinary people, yet skillfully stays on the right side by having interesting characters with something at stake. But if you have a friend that declares that he "hates indie films," I'd keep him or her clear of this one.
Wendy wants to take her dog to Alaska where she hopes to find work in a fish cannery. Car troubles complicate her plan. Wendy's only real sin, and the engine that drives the story, is that she doesn't have a lot of money. She needs to get to Alaska and earn some more before she runs out. It is the simplicity and universality of her predicament and the matter-of-fact details with which Kelly Reichardt documents it that make this tiny slice of life unforgettable. Easily ninety percent of Michelle Williams' performance is non-verbal. She betrays as little emotion as she can, trying to maintain her self control. The brilliance of this understatement is that we must constantly place ourselves in her position to understand what must be going through her head. Everything about this film is deceptively easy. It is so brutally honest that any attempt at a Hollywood story element would break the movie's spell. WENDY AND LUCY's brevity is one of its chief virtues.
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