Life Can be a Dog
If I was to tell you that "Wendy and Lucy" is a movie about a young woman travelling across country with her dog, but a woman who having lost her dog is desperate to track her down what would you think? Would you think some cutesy family movie all about the bond between human and canine, maybe something more romantic, a subtle play on a love story but that between a woman whose best friend is her dog, or maybe something more adventurous with tales of the road. For me "Wendy and Lucy" isn't that because this is a story about hardship, about how having no money forces tough decisions brought on by the harshness of real life and the need to do whatever it takes to survive. But then "Wendy and Lucy" is a movie which speaks to people in different ways and for those who have known what it is like to scrabble for change will probably gain from it what I did.
Heading to Alaska in the hope of a decent job, Wendy (Michelle Williams - Brokeback Mountain) and her dog Lucy find their journey interrupted when after another night of sleeping rough in her car she finds it won't start. With hardly enough money to care for herself and Lucy the expense of a broken down car is another stress for Wendy to cope with. But when she is arrested for shoplifting things become much worse as Lucy disappears and with no home or phone and her car in with the local mechanic trying to find Lucy becomes almost impossible.
Now it has to be mentioned that whilst "Wendy and Lucy" features some well known names such as Michelle Williams and Will Patton it is not mainstream cinema this is a movie made on the estimated budget of $200,000. As such it does feel sparse, the sort of independent movie which is made with the minimal of crew, probably one camera and in the space of a few days. But it does make it both more real and more interesting, less staged and with the rawness of real life as the noise of traffic and trains can be heard in the backdrop.
As for the actual storyline it is simple as we watch what happens to Wendy and her dog Lucy over the space of a few days. Whilst we get a build up which establishes Wendy who is trying to make it to Alaska where a job opportunity lies her journey there is one where she sleeps in her car with her dog, the main story starts when basically her car doesn't start. A string of events lead to Wendy being arrested for shop lifting and when she returns Lucy has gone and so starts Wendy's desperate search for her best friend. At the same time with no home, no phone and barely any money saved to start a new life in Alaska she also has to deal with her broken down car. All of which leads to numerous tough choices as she has to decide what is best for Lucy if she ever finds her.
Now whilst I can see how some people can interpret "Wendy and Lucy" as a take on a love story because in part it is all about how much Wendy loves Lucy. But for me "Wendy and Lucy" is more about how hard life is when you have so little and how everything you do has to be thought about carefully, everything you buy must be needed not just wanted and so on. And writer, director Kelly Reichardt has done a very good job of getting this across, how trying to keep some sort of level of dignity is difficult when you look a mess when you wake up from sleeping in your car and your washroom becomes a service station toilet. It's hard to really describe how real Reichardt makes this feel unless you have been there, going to sleep on a cold night in a parking lot, knowing that someone may disturb your sleep and then using a service station to wash and change clothes. In many ways the fact none of this is dressed up or prettified makes the harsh reality of travelling rough comes across.
Whilst Kelly Reichardt's writing and direction is first rate it is also the 100% commitment to the role of Wendy from Michelle Williams which makes it work. Watching Williams exit her car after a night of sleeping in it doesn't look pretty, but that is real and so is the difficulty of dealing with authorities when you have no home or phone as Wendy desperately tries to find Lucy. And William's gets across that frustration not only at the system but at herself for allowing things to escalate to the point that it seems helpless. Yet there is more and you get the emotional side of the story as she has to make tough decisions, but these are not overly manufactured emotions, but those which come from deep with in.
What this all boils down to is that "Wendy and Lucy" is a very good movie especially if you can connect with the hardship and life of Wendy. It is raw and also real and to be honest quite tough to take, but for those who are willing to extend their viewing to beyond mainstream movies then "Wendy and Lucy" is well worth a watch.