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The critic’s darling Wendy and Lucy has a powerful performance at its center courtesy of Michelle Williams, however, to me, it doesn’t have very much else going for it. I guess this is just one way to tell myself that I am a film fan and not a critic because, for the most part, I was absolutely bored and pretty much uncaring about what would happen. Is it some masterpiece of minimalism? Does it capture the turmoil and strife of a down-on-her-luck woman trying desperately to restart her life while constantly being knocked down by the fates? Perhaps, but do I care? Not really. Our lead ends the film right at the point in which she began it, in Oregon, en route to Alaska, without a car. Has she evolved? Has her situation been bettered or worsened? No and no. This film is a slice of life picture that comes full circle in a very short 80 minutes, taking us for a ride that inevitably goes nowhere. It’s a shame too because Williams is fantastic, I just wish there was a story to make her hard work meaningful.

The simple story deals with Wendy and her dog Lucy on a journey to Alaska in search of work to make some much needed money. Starting from Indiana, they have made it as far as Oregon where their car finally breaks down in a Walgreens parking lot. With little money, no place to stay, and the closest garage closed for the day, Wendy decides to try her luck shoplifting in order to feed herself and her companion. That idea won’t work, though, and after spending an eternity in jail—getting fingerprinted and fined—she returns to Jack’s grocery to find Lucy gone. The rest of the film then pits her against the world as she looks for her friend, tries to get her car repaired, and attempts to find a safe place to spend the night … all of which lead to tragic results on her existential journey. Repeatedly stepped on and beaten by bad luck and ill fate, you have to at least give her credit for never giving up. Despite the tears and the desperation, Wendy does her best to stay composed, meeting a couple kind souls on the way, and allow herself to truck on to a hopefully brighter future.

With plenty of dead air moments, devoid of speech, and its fair share of long takes that show pretty much the same activity over and over again, you can’t fault the movie’s realism. It’s a very cinema verite style, depicting real time events in an artistic way. Carefully composed and deliberately paced, Wendy and Lucy does its best to feel as though it’s a document of her life for these three dreadful days out west, but that authenticity does not always equal entertainment. You feel for Wendy—that is for sure—yet you also start to wonder why you even care. I respect the fact that she is attempting to survive by herself, without help, but did she have to do so this recklessly? Couldn’t she have worked a bit at a fast food place, making some cash and making sure her car was in good enough shape to make it all the way to Alaska? Why must she have just gone out and hoped for the best? Without any background or reason for her behavior, we will never know these answers. Instead we are expected to accept the fact that she is there, this string of bad luck happened, and we must sit and see how it all works out. However, when all is said and done, we are left with the exact same questions we had when it began. Nothing is clarified and we still have no idea how the journey is going to end.

But I guess we aren’t supposed to really know. This film seems to be a showcase for mood and life with its crazy ebbs and flows and how one overcomes it all. Wendy meets her fair share of jerks and people who mean well, but can’t look at the big picture. She also finds a few kind souls that do their job with enough care and tact to realize a troubled girl when they see one, helping as they can without breaking their own backs or patronizing the recipient. As a result we are given a couple nice performances from Will Patton and Wally Dalton. Patton plays the mechanic that seems to know his job and realizes that he can make a living without screwing his customers. He gives the facts plain and simple yet with a human touch to show his sympathy and willingness to help despite the fact that he won’t turn himself into a charity. As for Dalton, his security guard watching over Walgreens and in effect Wendy herself, he is the heart of the entire film. A literal guardian angel, he who begins the bad luck by waking her up to move her car, thus discovering it has died, soon becomes her greatest ally in finding a way to get out of Oregon and continue her migration north.

With all that, those roles that stand out and the story that falls flat as it seeps so far to the background it becomes non-existent, it is Michelle Williams that makes the movie worth checking out. Her strength and vulnerability is on display for the duration, constantly battling each other as her courage is tested multiple times. This is a girl that can take care of herself yet still needs a companion like her dog Lucy to survive what life throws at her. When that small piece of love is taken from her, she is unable to cope with what needs to be done. Never a woman in need of a handout, Williams’ Wendy is a transient being in search of meaning for her life. I truly hope she finds it, I’m just sorry that this film isn’t the vehicle to show whether she does.

Wendy and Lucy 6/10

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photography:
[1 & 2] Michelle Williams stars as Wendy Carroll in Oscilloscope Pictures’ Wendy and Lucy (2008) Copyright © Oscilloscope Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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