Truth and Movies

Wendy and Lucy

Review by Matt Bochenski @MattLWLies

Directed by

Kelly Reichardt

Starring

Michelle Williams

Anticipation.

Old Joy was good, but not that good.

Enjoyment.

A tender and lovely little film.

In Retrospect.

Reichardt is carving her own niche – love it or leave it.

Michelle Williams stars in this tender portrait of a women searching for her lost dog.

TS Eliot once wrote of the French poet Baudelaire that he conjured ‘the poésie des departs, the poésie des salles d’attente’. It wasn’t so much the journey as the liminal spaces between them that captured Baudelaire’s imagination – the possibilities, dreams and regrets that places of departure set before the soul.

In Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt plays with the flip side: the agony of stasis, and the loneliness that comes from being stuck between a nebulous here and a distant there.

Michelle Williams is Wendy, a young drifter passing through the Pacific Northwest on her way to Alaska. Unlike Christopher McCandless, hero of Sean Penn’s Into The Wild, Wendy is an old-fashioned economic migrant, heading West to find work, not just herself. Lucy is her dog, her only friend and companion, but after their car breaks down, a series of unfortunate twists sees them parted, bringing Wendy’s life of perpetual motion to a sudden, jarring stop.

Working from a John Raymond short story, Reichardt has assembled a tender and intimate drama that deftly touches on subjects ranging from America’s class divide (in which principles are the privilege of the wealthy), to industrialisation and self-identity. “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?” asks a friendly security guard, but Wendy has no home, no history, no identity.

Reichardt’s great strength as a director is her empathy, and her feeling for America as a bewildering place. Having lived and worked in New York for 20 years, she brings an outsider’s perspective to America’s heartland, and finds it a strange and intimidating place.

That it’s also graced by moments of quiet humanity is central to the appeal of her films. Her characters are vulnerable and imperfect (how you react to Wendy may hinge on whether you think her troubles are self-inflicted), but they are also dignified and real, capable of love and – perhaps the hardest thing of all – self-sacrifice.

Shot almost entirely outdoors in natural light, with understated performances and a soundtrack composed from the noise of an ever-present railroad (as both a metaphor of impermanence and a subtle nod towards Raymond’s original title, Train Choir), like Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy is a film of small details and unassuming craftsmanship. It may be too slight for some, but if you let it get under your skin, it packs a devastating emotional coda.

Published 6 Mar 2009

Tags: Kelly Reichardt Michelle Williams

Anticipation.

Old Joy was good, but not that good.

Enjoyment.

A tender and lovely little film.

In Retrospect.

Reichardt is carving her own niche – love it or leave it.

Suggested For You

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Certain Women

By David Jenkins

Director Kelly Reichardt returns with another brilliantly understated study of love and desire.

review LWLies Recommends

Why Wendy and Lucy remains a vital piece of American cinema

By Joel Blackledge

Kelly Reichardt’s low-key anti-drama from 2008 offers a sobering look at poverty in small town USA.

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