I must admit, I decided to write a review of the film for today's post without watching it first, thinking it'd be a cinch. I've spent the last several hours trying to come up with the best way to adequately describe the film.
A gritty portrayal of a young person down on her luck, "Wendy and Lucy" is an independent film from Kelly Reichardt, starring Michelle Williams as Wendy and a gorgeous mutt as Lucy. But this movie was so much more than a film about hard times. It was a portrayal of life in small-town Oregon, as well as how humans react in the face of poverty. It is also, at it's very core, about a girl and her dog.
The film opens as train clacks by in the seeming wilderness. Our introduction to Wendy and Lucy is one of them at play, Wendy throwing a stick and Lucy romping around after it. It seems very innocent, until Lucy wanders off into a bunch of rough, outsiders around a bonfire. That's when you get your first close-up glimpse at the dirty face and worn clothes that Wendy is wearing. And so, in the first five minutes, Reichardt is able to easily and poetically put Wendy and Lucy's life of general poverty into a visual nutshell.
Wandering from town to town in search of work, the two have only each other when confronted by strangers and meager times.
This, to me, seemed like the essence of the story: As Wendy and Lucy fall asleep in Wendy's broken down car, Wendy whispers, "Night, baby girl."
As I said, the film is first and foremost a poignant look at the love between a girl and her dog. Reichardt then steers it toward darker landscapes, as we are confronted with a grocery store clerk so set on doing right and following rules that he breaks the best friends apart, setting the real story in motion. You also glimpse the townfolk's reaction to this rough young woman sleeping in her car, the car repairman who is woefully ignorant of Wendy's troubles, the shifty homeless population that accosts the newcomer and (thankfully for the redemption of the human race) the congenial night guard who aids Wendy in her time of need.
In the end, if you're anything like me, you'll cry at the heartbreak, rage at the hypocrisy and smile at the small token of friendship that gives you the tiniest glimpse of the goodness we wish all people were capable of.
I think the beauty of the film lies in the grittiness of Reichardt's videography and lighting and in the gentle lesson that she lays out for the viewer, without shoving it down your throat. There's also a lovely circularity to the progression of the story, where the beginning is darkly mirrored by the events of the ending.
Watch it, but be prepared that it is not a happy-go-lucky film. And that is what's great about it, I think, that it's not the same old movie fodder we've been force-fed recently. But please soak up and enjoy the beginning. Because, even if you're nothing like me, I bet that when the film ends, you'll wish you could actually go back to the first five minutes of the movie, where a content Wendy is humming softly to her happy-go-lucky dog as they play fetch in the woods.