Better late than never: a review of Wendy and Lucy (by Adam HofbauerDecember 16, 2008 at 3:57 am | Posted in Adam Hofbauer, film, Review, SLIFF | 2 Comments
Tags: Adam Hofbauer, Film Review, SLIFF, Wendy and Lucy
In director Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, Michelle Williams portrays a young woman in search of work in a vast American road-scape. Accompanied by her dog, she becomes stranded in a small town in Oregon when her car breaks down, and the film follows her everyday struggle to survive in a state of homeless transience Illuminated by a strong performance by Williams and a stark, bare bones production design, Wendy and Lucy continues in the style established by Reichardt in her previous film, Old Joy. In doing so, it improves even on that great film’s merits, creating an inescapable sense of time and place, and a person lost within both.
Williams disappears into her role, looking boyish and almost masculine in her unwashed and exhausted state. And while sometimes an unknown face contributes to our empathy for a character, it is the fact that we recognize Williams that makes her all the more convincing. In the last few months, this has become a country where poverty can seemingly strike anyone at any moment. And here is a movie-star, recognizable from television shows and tabloid headlines, portraying someone as hopeless and exhausted as one can possible become.
It is this exhaustion that Williams evokes so well. Time and again, Wendy tries to sleep, only to be awakened by increasingly threatening presences. Hers is a desperation for opportunity that pulls her through the empty streets of a featureless town somewhere in the north-west, always sleep deprived and tired. All around her is a world of staggering plenty. The grocery store swells with fresh produce and imported citrus fruits. The land around her seems to disappear into endless wilderness. Yet, in one of the film’s underlying rhymes, the opportunity of life in America is played against the sheer impossibility of accessing it. More than once Wendy becomes lost in the cement and steel mazes of a bureaucratic systems that have no capacity for the individual, that place paperwork above social work.
Wendy aims for Alaska, where there is work rumored at the fisheries, and which is portrayed as a still intact frontier. The idea that birthed America, that pushing west will save us from oppression and poverty, persists here. Though abandoned by family and left jobless and wandering, the sheer inaccessibility of some faraway place, the heroic act of pushing into lands unknown, is still a compelling one.
The choices Wendy makes demonstrate a truth that is often inescapable for the desperate and the working poor: in the struggle for survival and companionship, attaining both is impossible, and one must be sacrificed to serve the other. Wendy is a desperate girl lost within a system that Reichardt is suggesting has the ability to be lenient and human, and yet chooses to remain cold and impenetrable. Here, in microcosm, is a country with every resource at its disposal, and yet there is often no system of social support for those who may need it. Here is a plea for kindness, for anyone to listen, to understand. And here is the result of the rejection of that kindness, in casually wrathful mechanics, terrifying encounters in rain soaked darkness, and exhaustion in the endless search for rest.
Wendy and Lucy is in limited release throughout March. It is next screening in Chicago on January 30th. Other screening dates can be found here: http://www.wendyandlucy.com/n_theaters.html