Wendy and Lucy Review

Oscar nominee Michelle Williams stars as a down-on-her-luck young woman in search of a new life in this hard-hitting indie drama…

Every so often a truly affecting indie film is given a limited theatrical release and it makes me wonder why it isn’t shown on more screens. Wendy and Lucy is one of those rare films that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. In an era where filmmakers regularly spend millions of dollars on films that barely register with their audiences, it is refreshing to see a film made on a shoestring budget that speaks to viewers and portrays human emotion in such a touching and honest way.

Although the film’s title and central characters are reminiscent of box office smash Marley and Me, the two films couldn’t be more different. Kelly Reichardt’s indie drama stars Michelle Williams as a young woman stuck in Oregon on her way from Indiana to Alaska in search of work. Reichardt’s script, co-written by Jonathan Raymond who penned source material Train Choir, features elements of a road movie and a buddy movie but differs from these typical genre films. Wendy is on the road not to find herself but merely to find a job, accompanied by her dog, Lucy. When Wendy becomes separated from her faithful companion, her situation goes from bad to worse.

We aren’t told much about Wendy and a lot of the questions posed throughout the course of the film remain unanswered: Why is she alone? Why does she carry her life around in the boot of her car? No mention is made of her past except for a brief phone call to her sister and brother-in-law who aren’t remotely interested in her problems. No-one seems to show Wendy any affection except her fair-haired, four-legged friend and the only support she receives comes from a kind hearted security guard (Wally Dalton).

Even though Wendy’s problems seem self-inflicted, you can’t help but empathise with her. This is in large part due to Williams’ captivating performance. She is on screen for almost every second of the film so we are constantly reminded of her plight. In any other film this could grow irritating but Reichardt’s minimalist storytelling is subtly powerful.

Michelle Williams has come a long way since Dawson’s Creek, appearing in a string of successful films in the six years since the popular teen drama came to an end. Retaining her credibility as a serious actress, she picked up a BAFTA and Oscar nomination for her role in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain and has appeared in an eclectic range of films including Me Without You, The Station Agent, and Synecdoche, New York as well as the upcoming Scorsese thriller Shutter Island. Her low-key role as lost soul Wendy earned her a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award as well as an Online Film Critics Society Award.

The plot has such a timeliness to it and is so universal that every viewer, whether they are male or female, young or old, gay or straight, black or white feels every inch of Wendy’s despair. The film’s realism and immediacy is heightened by the lack of music and use of natural sounds and lighting.

Wendy and Lucy was a massive hit with critics on its initial release, winning the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards for Best Picture and Female Performance and to date has taken nearly a million dollars worldwide (five times its budget). The film’s premise is so simple that you wouldn’t think you could fill 80 minutes with one woman’s search for her dog. Fortunately, Reichardt has produced a beautifully mesmerising film. Despite the short running time and minimal dialogue, Wendy and Lucy is a hard-hitting character-driven film that may just emerge as one of the defining indie films of this generation. Doing for 2000’s Western audiences what The Bicycle Thief did for 1940s Europeans, it captures the hopelessness and desperation of this so-called Recession Depression.

Emma Farley

Updated: Jun 26, 2009

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