There is no doubting that Kelly Reichardt is a director on the up. Her 2006 sophomore feature Old Joy captivated those within the independent milieu and, despite some minor flaws, her latest effort Wendy and Lucy continues to heap praise on what looks to be a bright directorial future, in the American-indie genre.
Wendy and Lucy is the story of a mammoth road trip from Indiana to Alaska, whereby Wendy (Michelle Williams) has only her dependable dog Lucy for company, as she chases the promise of a summer job in a fish cannery.
With little over $500 in her pocket and a beaten up Honda to get them to Palin country, completing the trip often seems unlikely. Nonetheless, the pair’s relationship is by no means one way. Indeed, Wendy’s mysterious, slightly aloof character is complimented by Lucy’s playful and faithful nature. As her owner finds herself in trouble on more than one occasion, Reichardt shows their dependence on one another with touching ease.
The movie is helped by a solid performance by Williams. While she doesn’t blow you away (and the film lacks a pinnacle), Williams is consistent nonetheless and conveys moods of desperation, isolation and fear with subtlety and plausibility. She is on screen for almost all of the film’s 80 minutes and commands it with understated confidence. With Williams unlikely add to her Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain with this attempt, she is an actress whose genuine talent has been too often overlooked. Perhaps this can be the film that finally catapults her on to more starring roles.
Beyond the expert storytelling that the director is now becoming known for, there are parts of the film that let it down. The scriptwriting is careless at times and incidents such as Wendy’s arrest for shoplifting are too calculated. The last twenty minutes of the film sees a reliance on conventions that, despite wrapping up the story quite neatly, take you away from the organic simplicity of what is a very beautiful story.
The film attracted deserved attention for Reichardt at this year’s Cannes Festival and, although it lacks the je na sai quoi that brought her much adulation for Old Joy, the praise for her latest release is generally justified. With the world on the cusp of economic turmoil, the timing of the film and its themes gives the story more credibility, yet achieves a timeless quality that not all indie Directors accomplish with such integrity.
Wendy and Lucy is certainly worth 80 minutes of your time and the Reichardt-Williams collaboration is a promising one. With Sundance around the corner, expect this film to command further dominance in the public consciousness, and finally put Williams firmly on the map.
Wendy and Lucy in select theaters now: