May 19, 2011

09.05: WENDY & LUCY

Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy & Lucy (that played as part of the Wellington Film Society programme) is not an easy watch. Nothing gut wrenchingly awful or grotesque happens. In fact, the story is deceptively simple: Michelle Williams is Wendy; a young woman escaping from, or running to somewhere. She’s living pretty close to the line, sleeping in her car and washing in service station bathrooms. Her only companion is her dog, Lucy. The entire film takes place in a small no-name American town the two stop in and the plot consists of Lucy going missing and Wendy’s search for her. Wendy & Lucy is a tough watch because it’s so unrelentingly downbeat.

I don’t if you could call what Michelle Williams does here acting, as she just seems to be Wendy – skinny tomboy on the skids, a down-and-outer on the road, her only companion a dog named Lucy and poverty breathing down her neck (that almost sounds like Bruce Springsteen lyrics). She’s a difficult character to root for; the film takes place over a small period of time, with little back-story given. Wendy is something of a blank presence, quiet and with minimal facial expression as Williams internalises almost all of her emotions. There aren't too many other characters and those that are there drift in and out, offering unlooked for advice and commentary. The most sympathetic character turns out to be the old security guard who himself was initially unhelpful. And the wonderful Will Patton as a mechanic aside, there are no other recognisable actors.

Everything in the film is fairly muted, from the cinematography to the soundtrack. But it’s also a pretty harsh commentary on modern America, as Wendy is initially punished for a minor bit of shoplifting by an uptight and small minded young man. It's no accident he prominently wears a Christian cross but has no interest in leniency or forgiveness. Once Lucy goes missing almost no-one offers assistance to Wendy and when they do, it's not much more than the bare minimum.

Which is not to say I wouldn't recommend it. It’s a quiet film, comfortable taking things at its own pace. It's not a laugh-a-minute, nor does it have explosive special effects to wow your eyes, but you might take something more from it. Granted, you may find there isn't actually much else going on below the surface; that the whole film is exercise in indie bleakness and not much else. But, I feel, it's worth a chance.

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