Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wendy and Lucy *

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Michelle Williams, Walter Dalton
Will Oldham, John Robinson, Will Patton

Some of the greatest films of all time have dealt with the simplest kind of situations and have found universal truths in their quest and resolution.
Like the man looking for his bicycle without which he's unemployed, the sick man who won't get medical care for bureaucracy and the single mother trying to protect her daughter in a war savaged country, Wendy (Williams) is looking for a new job in Alaska taking only her dog Lucy, that is until her dog disappears in a strange town, leaving Wendy heartbroken.
What Neorrealist masters, modern Romanians and documentary makers have found in similar situations, director Kelly Reichardt never even comes close to achieving.
Williams gives a subtle performance as Wendy and her scenes with the dog achieve a kind of urgency most people who've owned pets will recognize.
But when she tries to touch social problems in which we find her stealing groceries, sleeping in her car and washing herself in public restrooms, Wendy comes off looking as an arrogant woman looking for the easiest way out.
Williams doesn't give her enough of a background for us to understand why is she putting herself through this misery and when an offended clerk tells her that people who can't afford food for their pets shouldn't be owning one, it's impossible not to agree with him.
The film's problem might be then that Wendy's struggles stay at a very local level and people outside the United States will find her hassles as those of a drama queen who always had another option to fight her poverty.
Who cares that Wendy can't start her car to travel when there is people around the world who don't even have the dream of owning a car?
Who can understand her shoplifting for food when later we find out she has money to pay her bail?
Eventually the situations Reichardt puts Wendy through come off looking as "now what?" instead of being empathic buildups to the film's climax.
When the movie reaches its final scene it strikes a chord but for all the wrong reasons, instead of having worked harder to show that Lucy meant the only love left for Wendy in the world, it highlights her selfishness.
The plot also has trouble convincing us that this trip would help Wendy, what if there was no job in Alaska? There is never much of a clue that Wendy has thought of anything before we meet her, it's as if the character started existing once the cameras started rolling.
Sadly the film begins rather well, even hinting at some moments of greatness and inventive cinematic qualities.
One scene particularly has a great transition where Wendy observes a group of homeless people, the camera shifts from her face to the people she's watching and immediately the camera becomes her eyes.
During this scene Williams proves what a great actress she can be as she simply listens to everyone else and doesn't try to hog the spotlight.
Despite Williams' best efforts, for Reichardt Wendy never materializes beyond gender studies and economic critiques.
She's thesis material, not an actual person.

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