A woman at wits’ end desperate for a job—and her hungry dog—are the subject of Reichardt’s depressing slice of working-class Americana, starring Michelle Williams in top form.
Cast: Michelle Williams, Lucy, Wally Dalton
Plot: Wendy is driving with her dog Lucy to Alaska, in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the fish cannery. When her car breaks down in Oregon, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she faces a series of increasingly dire challenges.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
International Sales: Memento Films
Subject Matter: Moderate – Economic Hardship
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Kelly Reichardt further solidified her status as one of the finest talents to emerge from the American indie cinema scene with Wendy and Lucy, a follow-up to Old Joy (2006), one of her very best works.
Starring Michelle Williams, who transforms herself into one half of the titular duo with an emotionally devastating performance that is delivered with just the right amount of restrain, Wendy and Lucy is about the people who are caught in a downward economic spiral as America leaves them behind in the streets.
Released in the same year as the world faced a major financial crisis, Reichardt’s modest film says so much about the abjectness of having so little money (in a few scenes, we see Wendy doing pen-and-paper calculations of her expenses as her coffers dwindle close to zero). Even trying to feed Lucy, her dear and hungry dog, is a tall order.
“You can’t get a job without a job.”
Without saying too much, Wendy and Lucy is a loose cross between Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D. (1952)—the reference to Italian neorealism intended, as Reichardt’s work is in the tradition of social realism.
Some might find the film too depressing, but there is something in Wendy’s character that suggests that she will persevere despite the grave challenges of surviving in an unforgiving world.
To me, the best parts of Wendy and Lucy aren’t her and her dog, but her sporadic interactions with an old security guard. In the film’s most touching scene, something is exchanged between them—it’s not much in the bigger scheme of things, but at that very moment, we witness the purest form of compassion from one human being to another.