Wendy and Lucy is an independent film in the spirit they were intended. There is very little soundtrack to distract from the sparse activity within the film; there are no costume changes and almost no makeup. The camera is wobbly and sometimes shots are out of focus. Wendy (Michelle Williams) hums throughout the film, and this gives the film it’s raw, unorthodox soundtrack of a woman’s vibrating trachea. The end product is a movie that has an atmospheric feel to it. Wendy and Lucy has the mood of a piece of work that is still gestating, it feels unfinished and dreamlike, but that is most certainly on purpose.
It opens with a young woman taking her dog for a walk in a non-descript park. Her dog wanders off and meets up with some homeless kids building a bonfire. At that point, we are not sure if she is also homeless, or just pausing to chat for a minute with the less fortunate. Turns out that she's living in her car, surviving on a shoestring budget, and trying to make her way to Alaska. In other words, she’s teetering on the edge of homelessness. The next morning, after washing up in a gas station bathroom, Wendy ties up her dog outside of a grocery store while she goes in to shoplift some dog food. She gets caught and taken to jail, while her dog gets left out in front of the store. When she comes back from being incarcerated, her dog is no longer there. The rest of the story is her trying to find her dog and get her broken car fixed.
If Michelle Williams were not so hauntingly magnetic to watch, this film would certainly not hold the same amount of intrigue. Her face is the main character in the film, wafting sorrowfully from frame to frame. This is a character that goes from road-tripping to down on her luck and almost homeless within the span of a few days, and there are no distractions from this fall. In this way, the quality of the entire movie depends upon William’s performance, and she certainly pulls through. There is a breakdown scene towards the end that could have been much more provocative and dramatic, but she shines perfectly in the subdued emotional state upheld throughout the majority of the film. Most critically, she is believable as a transient young waif with a dog; she becomes this girl.
Rather than feeling like a film about a girl, Wendy & Lucy seems more like the documentation of a portion of a girl’s journey. Director Kelly Reichardt goes into painstaking detail of every pertinent action that Wendy takes. When she's going through the intake process at jail, the camera cuts to a shot of the fingerprint machine as Wendy’s small finger rolls on it. With very little dialogue and hardly any music, it is the vibrant details that hold your attention. Unfortunately, the plot crawls along with nothing to distract from the absolutely morose nature of the film. Williams does a fantastic job playing the role of Wendy, but the role itself is fairly bland with small bits of energy spliced in.
Although it is pulse-pounding in it’s own way, Wendy and Lucy is by no means intended to be watched by someone in the mood for a big-budget action. Instead, it's best left to a lazy, rainy afternoon, with little expectation and lots of patience. If that's where you find yourself, then there may be something here that sticks with you.
The disc feels about as low budget as the film. There are the basics: setup and scene selection, and trailers. Then there is an option titles “Showcase” which is basically a collection of avant-garde short films chosen by Reichardt to go with the disc. The previews all have the exact same artsy makeup-free vibe as the film. Most of them are documentaries, a medium in which the low budget look is best pulled off. There is actually a preview of Wendy and Lucy in this section, which feels like an oversight. It was strange to watch a preview for a film in which nearly nothing happens, the most noteworthy part of the preview being when they show us which awards the film won at Cannes and Sundance.
Depending on your taste, the short films collected for the “Showcase” section are either appallingly modern or refreshingly pointless. If you have ever been to a modern art museum and felt alienated by the abstract art, well, that was my response. The films are ones that Reichardt produced and all come from fellow faculty members where she works at Bard College.
There are two short films by Peter Hutton, one of which is just footage of the Boston fire, the other of which is short shots of buildings and playgrounds. The second director featured is Peggy Ahwesh, and her film is called “The Scary Movie” and is shots of two small girls being pet by a giant rubber hand. Les LeVeaue is the next director and his film was by far the most abstract; “Flight” was a still shot of Neil Armstrong on the moon set to the sound of a CD skipping. The last director would be Jacqueline Goss and her film was the most cohesive of the bunch. Goss’s film followed a group of illiterate people from a third world country as they learned how to read and use deductive reasoning skills. The strangest part about the whole “Showcase” section is that the introduction claims that they are including avant-garde material, even though critics did not call Wendy and Lucy avant-garde. The whole situation is super pretentious and self-referential.