SOME FILMS ARE MURALS, someare sketches. “Wendy and Lucy,” aminimalist character study starringMichelle Williams, is a deft, compact piecethat makes every shot and moment count.
Wendy, making her way from Indianato Alaska with her dog, Lucy, couldbe mistaken for a waif, but her slenderfigure and shy, sensitive eyes belie herstrength of character.
She’s heading north to work in a fishcannery, demanding work in an unforgivingenvironment. We encounter Wendyhalfway to her goal, in a nondescript Oregontown, where car trouble interruptsher journey. We learn from her conversationwith some drifters that Alaska“needs people,” and Wendy needs work.
She also needs to give and receivelove, and Lucy fits the bill better thanmost of the humans she encounters.
Much of the film follows Wendythrough her solitary paces as she washesup in a gas station rest room, collects sodacans to sell at a recycling center and playsfetch with her best friend. She has a bitof money, but her budget doesn’t allowfor a cracked S-belt. Wendy is too proudto ask for charity, and the people shemeets are mostly sympathetic but unableto offer much more than good wishes.
One problem triggers another, Wendymakes a few bad decisions, and soonshe’s carried away by an avalanche oftrouble that separates her from herbeloved Lucy. Wendy lets us know howmuch she treasures the animal when she gives the terse description, “yellowgold.”
Writer/director Kelly Reichardtconstructs her film of suchhaiku touches.
Proceeding to Alaska alone isunthinkable, but locating Lucy withoutmuch cash, transportation or acell phone is an uphill battle.
Wendy’s dilemma touches some ofthe townspeople, but as a workerat the local animal shelter remindsWendy, “It’s up to you.”
We get only a few clues aboutWendy’s background. A phone callto her sister and brother-in-law hintsat problems back home, but we’releft to speculate what they might be.
We see her deliberately doingwrong and brazenly denying it. Isthis a rare transgression or habit?
Williams’ stupendous, subtleperformance doesn’t divulge suchsecrets. She is playing a characterwho has learned to be guardedaround people. Her emotions onlycrack open when she’s safely hiddenbehind a locked lavatory dooror talking to her dog.
In the course of an hour and 20minutes, we learn just a little aboutthis lost, lonesome soul, but it’ssufficient to make us care.
RATED: RRUNNINGTIME: 1hour, 20minutes