Kelly Reichardt is quickly emerging as a young filmmaker to watch and admire. Her films are low budget, filled with natural light, simple, honest and direct--qualities that I love to see an American reveling in (most want the flash and dash of Hollywood unfortunately). Based on Wendy and Lucy and 2006's Old Joy, Reichardt has tapped into a portion of the usually unseen American population, and has unleashed a couple of heart wrenching tales of the lost and found.
Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a young woman travelling to Alaska with her dog Lucy. With dwindling funds, Wendy's car breaks down in Oregon and this begins a rough span of hours for Wendy. When Lucy disappears sometime after the car trouble, Wendy becomes desperate to find her and to restore some sense of normalcy and friendship in her solitary existence. Wendy may have other people in her life but we don't get to see them. We only get to see her with the dog and engage in awkward conversations with strangers. So, Lucy is important, she may be the only real relationship in Wendy's life.
Wendy and Lucy seems simple on the surface but has a lot going on in it if you look. It's a powerful meditation on a variety of themes--the desperation and frustration of being poor, the isolation of travel and not fitting in with the world around you, the optimistic wanderlust of youth, forming unexpected connections with strangers and the universal love between dog and owner. The story unfolds with little dialogue, utilizes long takes and is raw without the doses of sentimentality a lesser director may have injected. A film with a major plot point of a missing pet could go syrupy very fast but it's to Reichardt's credit that Wendy and Lucy never comes close to veering in that direction.
Williams, who I'm more impressed with each time I see her act, gives a stellar performance as Wendy. She absolutely nails it. She's equally numb and emotionally fragile with the way she has to live and with what happens to her in Oregon. Will Patton plays a mechanic and while I like him, it was a distraction to see someone recognizable in the context of such a small story and setting.The rest of the film is full of non-pros or obscure character actors and this adds to the film's texture of reality.
Wendy and Lucy stays with you long after it ends. The slowness lulls you into its sadness and when it is over, the story and performances are haunting as they stick to you. We need more American filmmakers like Reichardt crafting real stories and real films but unfortunately her style doesn't translate to the masses. It's too slow, it's too sad, it's too low budget but it's really too bad because the void that has become American filmmaking is only growing larger and we could use more people as interesting and talented as Kelly Reichardt.