Review: Wendy and Lucy (2008)

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Gripping and emotional film on a multitude of levels!

Written By: Jonathan Raymond & Kelly Reichardt
Directed By: Kelly Reichardt

I’m having trouble with the simple idea of a beginning to this review. That right there should tell you how powerful of a film Wendy and Lucy is. I don’t know whether to start off by talking about the performance of Michelle Williams as Wendy, the statement on the fringe world created by the current economic crisis in America, or the relationship between a person and their animal (I’ll just say dog for my own reasons for the rest of the review) and how it can and is much more than people realize. I could discuss how powerful Wendy and Lucy is, or how it is directed with a simplicity that borders on complete genius, or how every scene is constructed and written so as to be completely realistic. I could talk about all of these things, but I don’t believe any one facet of Wendy and Lucy takes precedence over the other, because you remove one and the whole suffers. I guess we’ll just see where this review takes us, and I have no idea where that might be.

Going by personal experience I’ll first touch on the relationship that Wendy has with Lucy and how true to life that is. It’s tough for people without a dog, or even people who merely view their dog as a pet or just some animal to understand how important a dog can be to a person. I, for instance, am a loner, somewhat by choice but mainly because that is how life has shaken out for me. Even when I have other people around me I am the type of person that feels very alone. I have trouble relating to people and I am always at a loss for how to interact with people. All faults, all things that can be worked on, and are, but that is how my life has played out. I know you’re wondering what this has to do with a dog, well, I’ll tell you. I have had two dogs in my life, Precious & Spot, and I have been closer to them than I am to any living person. They aren’t just pets to me, they are my buddies, and they are what I go to whenever things aren’t going well and when they are going good. It may seem odd to other people, but dogs aren’t stupid, they understand when you are hurt, they know when you are happy, and they are well aware of when you are mad. For someone who has trouble relating to people a dog that instantly relates to whatever I am going through and is always there for me transcends being a mere animal and becomes a cherished loved one.

Now, this relates to Wendy and Lucy in the way that the loss of Lucy completely destroys Wendy. She has no one, she can’t relate to people nor can she interact with them. All she has is Lucy. Her hopes, fears and desires are only for her and Lucy, not for anyone else. That is why it was so heartbreaking to see Wendy lose Lucy the first time and then have to leave Lucy behind the second time. The second departure was sad not just because Wendy knew she had to go on without Lucy in order for Lucy to be properly taken care of but that with her anchor now gone I have no doubt that Wendy was traveling to her end. All that she loved and cherished was ripped away from her when she left Lucy and now she continues on living a hollow life with no one to console her or help her. Lucy will be dead or completely destitute in short order and that is because her reason for going on was left behind in Oregon.

That brings us to the predominant social commentary in Wendy and Lucy, the fringe society that is developing in America as a result of years of economic problems, but moreso because of years of human degradation and the end of the idea of a societal whole has been replaced with the individual. We no longer live in a society where “love thy neighbor”, and I don’t mean in a religious sense, is honored in any way. We live in a world full of the haves and the have-nots, and no one on either side of the divide can help or will help each other. The scene in the grocery store best asserts this. The clerk who turns Wendy in is a member of the haves in his eyes, and there are rules to be followed and people to be punished. It doesn’t matter that the system is flawed and the rules don’t allow for people to get by anymore, he must keep the rules or his life as he knows it will come crashing down all around him. He’s not an evil kid, he is a product of the world as we know it today and he is taking the role of the individual looking out for himself and his place in society.

The fringe society as displayed in Wendy and Lucy is frightening, it is so frightening because it is the reality all around us. People don’t help each other anymore, individuals look out for themselves and let what happens to others happen because it’s not their problem. We have built a society that is all about getting ahead and letting everyone else fall to the wayside on our way to the top of the mountain. Once we reach the top of that mountain the people at the bottom don’t matter anymore because we are at the top and they are at the bottom. I am guilty of this myself, so don’t think I am being a sanctimonious preacher. I am a flawed individual and I know it, but I am a work in progress. Wendy and Lucy provides a stark look at what is happening in America, I wonder how many people will refuse to accept the reality and instead continue to live in a fictional bliss?

There isn’t much that I need to say about Michelle Williams’s performance. It is real, it is nuanced, it is powerful, and it is breathtaking. She draws you in from the moment she appears on screen, you feel her love for Lucy, you feel her desperation as her funds swindle, and finally you feel her resignation as she realizes that the world has dealt her a possible death blow with the loss of Lucy upon her departure from Oregon. Miss Williams is never grandiose in her role, she doesn’t have to be flashy, she inhabits the role of Wendy and makes it her own. She makes us believe that she is Wendy.

This is the first film from Kelly Reichardt that I have seen and obviously it makes me want to track down her previous work. She works in a simple fashion, using tracking shots when they are necessary, never getting too flashy with her camera, she lingers on a scene to provide impact, or uses a static shot to create resonance. Miss Reichardt creates a real world and she allows us to view it in a real light, there isn’t a moment when Wendy and Lucy feels fake. In a landscape dominated by male directors Miss Reichardt deserves her due as a female director and she deserves recognition as a tremendous talent regardless of gender.

Quite a lengthy review on my part and for those who don’t like to read lengthy reviews I do apologize. But, Wendy and Lucy is a powerful film that touched me immensely. It stirred up feelings and thoughts within me, it made me feel for Wendy as well as Lucy, and more than anything it made me feel fear for the direction our society is going in and how quick we are to allow it to continue down that spiral of despair and desolation.

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

3 responses to “Review: Wendy and Lucy (2008)

  1. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Directing Props, Pt. 1! | Bill's Movie Emporium

  2. Pingback: Review: Meek’s Cutoff (2010) | Bill's Movie Emporium

  3. Pingback: Review: Frozen River (2008) | Bill's Movie Emporium

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