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REVIEW: Wendy and Lucy

By Philip Martin

This article was published April 17, 2009 at 3:02 a.m.

Wendy (Michelle Williams) has a true friend in her dog in Wendy and Lucy.

— The down and out are with us always. We notice some of them, the ones with obvious afflictions and aluminum foil bonnets shuffling along chatting to themselves on imaginary Bluetooths. Others we don't notice because they look presentable enough, because they don't want to call attention to their plight. They have all their teeth and their clothes are reasonably clean.

Millions of people are one bad break away from ending up like Wendy (Michelle Williams), who is making a desperate charge across the country from a bad situation in the Midwest to the modest hope of a cannery job in Alaska, with room and board part of her compensation. She hasn't much, just a few dollars, an old car and her best friend - a yellow Lab mix named Lucy.

Wendy and Lucy have made it as far as the Pacific Northwest, sleeping in the car, when their luck fails. A drugstore security guard (Wally Dalton) taps on the car window to tell Wendy she can't park in the lot overnight, and when she tries to start the car it won't turn over. The guard, who turns out to be a deeply empathetic old soul who in a better world would be long retired, helps her push it off the lot and directs her to an honest repair shop. It's not yet open, and they're running low on dog food, so Wendy and Lucy head for a supermarket.

What happens next is predictable and heartbreaking. I don't know that I've ever cried at a movie before but when I starting watching my review screener of this lovely, human-scaled movie (on my laptop in an airplane, not the ideal environment in which to watch any movie, much less one as nuanced and intelligent as this) my eyes moistened to the point I couldn't finish it. I had towait until I got to my hotel so I could blubber away in peace.

Maybe that doesn't sound like much of an endorsement - and maybe a lot of people won't get Wendy and Lucy; they'll see this ordinary story about ordinary happenings and wonder why anyone would make a movie about such a pathetic incident in the life of an underachieving young woman.

That's a fair question and the answer depends on what you want from the movies. For me, Wendy and Lucy is an American Bicycle Thief, a simple, powerful film about the oppressive indignity of being poor in a wealthy country.

Reichardt works in a minimalist style reminiscent of European Dogme 95's austere filmmakers. Her films are shot on digital video, using available light sources and only naturally occurring music. Her subjects are people of modest abilities and accomplishments.

But Wendy and Lucy is not about the victimization of Wendy by society or anything else; in the course of her journeys she encounters more kind, understanding people than the other sort (the snarling, over officious teenage grocery clerk who sneers at her is an exception, and his cruelty can in part be explained by his callowness). It isn't even so much about the bond between a girl and her dog. It's about the animal need to press on even when things seem impossible. And the human capacity to understand the limits of one's capacities.

MovieStyle, Pages 37 on 04/17/2009

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