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Wendy and Lucy

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Wendy and Lucy. Kelly Reichardt, director and co-script w/Jonathan Raymond. Starring: Michelle Williams (Wendy), Walter Dalton (Security Guard), Will Patton (Mechanic)

A couple of weeks ago, The Toronto Film Critics Association named Wendy and Lucy the film of the year and gave Michelle Williams its best actress award. And the film wasn’t even released in Canada in 2008! In fact, this tale of a drifter named Wendy and her dog named Lucy still hasn’t hit screens up here, its release having been delayed, once again, ‘til next week.

That’s a pity because audiences in Canada should embrace this low-budget gem. Be warned: Wendy and Lucy is the kind of film that film critics tend to love. It was made for little money, with no special effects, glamorous sets or fancy art direction.

The only star in the film is Michelle Williams, whose main claim to fame up to now was her touching performance as Alma, one of the forlorn wives (along with Anne Hathaway) in the myth shattering gay Western Brokeback Mountain. Williams had a child with her Brokeback leading man Heath Ledger but they’d split before she took on the role of Wendy in this new, downbeat American indie film.

Williams is riveting as a twentysomething drifter in Wendy and Lucy. Dressed in a hoodie and jeans with a devastated look in her eyes, Williams embodies the hapless Wendy. As the film opens, her Honda breaks down in a rainy, grey Pacific Northwest town. Stuck, she brings her car in to be repaired, but the audience can sense that Wendy has barely enough money to survive, let alone fix a rusted old automobile.

Things get worse when Wendy decides to steal dog food for her beloved Lucy, the only companion she has in the world. Busted by a self-righteous grocery clerk, Wendy is brought to the local police station where she is finger printed, booked and interrogated at length. When the frantic young woman is finally allowed to go free, she finds that her dog has gone missing.

That’s it — or nearly it — in terms of plot. Hardly The Dark Knight! Most of the film is taken up with Wendy’s efforts to find Lucy and get her car repaired. The film’s director and co-writer Kelly Reichardt has the wit and integrity to keep things minimal. The audience finds out very little about Wendy’s past; one can assume from her appearance that she’s left little behind in her Indiana hometown. She speaks of going to Alaska to find work — but it’s apparent that Wendy is unlikely to get there, and if she does, the work will not satisfy her.

Given these tough economic times, Wendy and Lucy may well be the first important film made for the new realities of 2009. Though it’s not my favourite film of last year — that distinction goes to Waltz with Bashir — I’m pleased with the choice of my fellow members of the Toronto Film Critics Association. Support honest filmmaking: go to the cinemas to see Wendy and Lucy.

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