Saturday, March 14, 2009

Film review: 'Wendy and Lucy' a tale of a girl, a dog and hard times

Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy.

By Hap Erstein

It is hard not to think of Michelle Williams as that girl from Dawson’s Creek, but since then she has quietly turned into a very accomplished actress.

Certainly there was evidence of that in the anguished wife she played in Brokeback Mountain, and now she is compelling in a plain, understated performance in Wendy and Lucy, a low-budget character sketch that will work its way under your skin.

Williams plays Wendy, a young, aimless woman of modest means who has gotten it in her head that she might find work in Ketchikan, Alaska. So she leaves Indiana and an awkward living arrangement with her sister and brother-in-law and drives away with a mutt named Lucy, probably the only friend she has in the world.

In the brief, 80-minute film, we witness one of Wendy’s more unfortunate legs of her road trip. Her car breaks down in a small Oregon town, she attempts to shoplift some dog food for Lucy, is arrested and jailed for a while. By the time she is released, someone has untied and taken Lucy from where Wendy parked her outside the grocery store.

Directed and co-written by Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy) from a short story by Jon Raymond, Wendy and Lucy is a hard luck tale for our recessionary times, though Wendy might be strapped for prospects in a better economy too.

Despite the downturn in her fortunes, Wendy meets some compassion along the way. While a security guard (Walter Dalton) begins by trying to shoo her away when he first finds her sleeping in her car, he eventually warms to her and ultimately presses some money into her hands. Even a service station mechanic (Will Patton) seems to have her best interests in mind, though his advice to jettison the car is hardly what she wants to hear.

Still, although Wendy’s future looks bleak, she does not seem to notice. All that is important to her is finding her dog and getting back on the road. Williams inhabits this underwritten role with an unsinkable optimism, albeit unfounded.

Reichardt gives her audience considerable credit for patience, as she paces the tale methodically, with well-observed details but little dramatic force. Nevertheless, she, along with Williams, makes us care about Wendy, even as we recognize the hopelessness of her situation.

WENDY AND LUCY. Director: Kelly Reichardt; Writers: Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt; Starring: Michelle Williams, Will Patton, Walter Dalton; Studio: Oscilloscope

No comments: