Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Wendy and Lucy
With impeccable timing, Kelly Reichardt has brought a genuine, relevant tale of struggle in the modern age with her latest film, Wendy and Lucy. Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a woman traveling the United States with her dog, Lucy, in hopes of making it to Alaska where she hears "they need people" in the canning industry.
Unfortunately for Wendy and Lucy, Wendy's car breaks down in not-so-nice small town Indiana. After being arrested for shoplifting by a young grocery clerk wearing a very large cross, Lucy, who had been tied up outside the store, goes missing. What ensues over the next hour is totally heartbreaking.
This is a short film. Its goals, in terms of what is actually presented on screen, are small. But the value of what you carry with you as you leave the theater is remarkable. It's a relief to see such subtle and beautiful film-making with so many bloated movies this year (The Dark Knight, Rachel Getting Married). Ms. Reichardt proves that you don't need extra reels to create drama.
Most of the success of film is thanks to the performance of Michelle Williams. Wendy at first seems hardened and stiff. But, as the film goes on, there are moments that endear her to us. In what seems like perhaps the most stoic and selfless performance of the year, Ms. Williams paints a realistic portrait of life for many Americans, trapped in lackluster jobs, or without jobs at all, no help from family or friends. There is no peacocking in Ms. Williams performance. It is her, the character, and the camera. While her approach might be understated, her talent shines through in abundance. Ms. Williams is a real actor; she wants to tell stories and she wants to feel the people she plays.
With the economic downturn and the massive lay-offs over the past few months, I imagine there will be a plethora of films and books which will appeal to our need for escapism. The success of Twilight seems proof of this. But I hope that underneath the radar there will be more films like Wendy and Lucy, that explore the absence of wealth and security in a world that demands these things from us. One of the most beautiful things about this petite work of art is its bravery in confronting human nature head-on. And, while we have high hopes for 2009, the world is changing rapidly. The time to define ourselves is now.