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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 30%
Average: 5%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Wendy and Lucy
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Girl And Her Dog"
5 stars

It has been noted by a few people that I never reviewed “Frozen River,” the much-discussed indie drama about an economically disenfranchised woman driven to extremes in an effort to provide for her loved ones at all costs that was released to much fanfare last summer. That absence has become even more pronounced now that lead actress Melissa Leo and writer-director Courtney Hunt have been nominated for Oscars for their contributions. Although I am sure that I could make up some profound reason as to why I never bothered to write anything about it, the answer is really quite simple--I just didn’t care much for it. Like most everyone who saw it, I admired Leo’s brave and brutally honest performance but beyond that, the film simply didn’t do that much for me--it always felt to me like a warmed-over John Sayles movie than anything else--and since it was such a small film, I figured that no one would really notice if I decided not offer up my relatively unfavorable thoughts since it would no doubt fade from view before too long. As it turns out, the film has stuck around for a while (it is even getting a return to some theaters before hitting DVD next month) and the majority of the critics who reviewed it were far more favorable to it than I was. However, reviewing it now would be kind of pointless because such a review would almost inevitably wind up dealing more with my reaction to everyone else’s reaction to the film than to the film itself. Instead, I would like to take this opportunity to recall Jean-Luc Godard’s famous comment that the best way to review a movie is to make another movie and point you in the direction of another film that I feel deals with much of the same material found in “Frozen River” in a much more successful manner. That film is Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy,” a spare and incredibly moving portrait of life on the fringes of contemporary America that deserves not only the accolades that “Frozen River” has received but its Oscar nominations as well.

The film stars Michelle Williams as Wendy, an alienated young woman who, as we learn from the few scraps of information that she reveals throughout the film, is leaving her hometown in Indiana for a hoped-for job canning fish in Alaska with her faithful golden retriever Lucy by her side. However, from the way that she obsessively counts each and every penny from behind the wheel of her run-down car, we can instantly sense that even if everything goes her way, the chances of actually making it there in that car and on her budget are remote indeed. As the film opens, disaster strikes when she is temporarily stranded in a small Oregon town when her car breaks down. While waiting for the local garage to open, she realizes that she is also out of dog food and walks over to the local grocery store and ties Lucy up outside before going in. Realizing the desperate straits that she is in and yet unwilling to let Lucy suffer as a result of those straits, Wendy succumbs to a moment of weakness and shoplifts a can of dog food. Unfortunately, she is busted by a smarmy little bagboy who all but hectors his boss to have her arrested and by the time Wendy returns to collect Lucy after being arrested and booked, she has disappeared.

What happens from this point is something that I leave for you to discover, except to note that she has encounters with some friendly locals, including a helpful security guard (Wally Dalton) and an honest auto mechanic (Will Patton), and one unfriendly one. What I will is that while the film is not necessarily about our current economic downturn--it has been playing the festival circuit for over a year now--it does as good of a job of capturing the dark national zeitgeist as anything I have seen in recent months. Pontificating about the poor staying poor while the rich get richer is all well and good but watching someone having to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their beloved companion, even if it is a dog, cuts to the heart of the matter in a much quicker and more effective manner if you ask me. I will also note that while the film is not necessarily a story about a girl and her dog--Lucy disappears maybe 20 minutes into the film, after all--it does a brilliant job of depicting the complex and almost mystical bonds that develop between a pet and its owner that perfectly illustrates why Wendy would take such a chance in order to feed Lucy and why she would devote her time and energy to try to find her once she disappears. (In this regard, among many others, “Wendy and Lucy” beats the appalling “Marley & Me” like a gong.) Finally, I will note that the film does a lovely job of capturing the rhythms of small-town life without resorting to caricature--with the exception of the shit store clerk and a weirdo hanging in the park who terrorizes Wendy one night, the people that our heroine encounters are decent and normal folk who are perfectly willing to lend assistance to someone that they hardly know and who is in no position to repay them, possibly because they realize that they themselves may not be more than a couple of steps away from her current predicament themselves.

Finally, I want to point out the two key elements to the success of “Wendy and Lucy,” namely the contributions of Michelle Williams and co-writer/director Kelly Reichardt. Although perhaps best known (at least professionally) for her work on the long-running serial “Dawson’s Creek,” Williams has racked up a number of impressive screen performances over the years in films as varied as “Dick,” “The Station Agent,” “Land of Plenty,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Synecdoche, New York.” That said, her work her as Wendy is by far the best work that she has done in a film to date--from the very start, she so completely inhabits her character to the minutest detail that she completely sheds her movie-star charisma and simply becomes Wendy in every way, shape and form to the point where someone who didn’t know she was in the film might not even realize that it was her. As for Reichardt, I should probably admit at this time that I wasn’t much of a fan of her previous film, the absurdly overpraised drama “Old Joy,” but while “Wendy and Lucy” is just as aggressively low-key as that effort, her work is a lot more effective this time around in the way that it brilliantly captures the mood of both its main character and the town she is stranded in despite depicting both with only the briefest number of brushstrokes. The result may not be as hip or flashy as many of the indie films coming around the pike but I guarantee that her work here will be remembered long after those other, flashier titles have faded from memory.

Although I have raved about “Wendy and Lucy,” I sense that I haven’t really said anything about it that would convince average moviegoers to get out of their seats and go out in search of it (especially since the lack of Oscar nominations means that most potential viewers won’t even get a chance to see it until it hits DVD). After all, the idea of spending 90 minutes watching a poor young woman losing her dog is probably not most people’s idea of a good time at the movies. To that extent, let me try a couple of final approaches to convince you to see it. If you are in the mood for a brilliantly modulated and emotionally resonant drama this weekend, you should see this movie. If you want to see a truly exceptional performance from a wonderful actress, you should make an effort to seek it out. Finally, if you have ever owned a pet before in your life and loved it with all your heart, you owe it to yourself to see “Wendy and Lucy” in order to witness a film that understands what that love truly entails.

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originally posted: 01/30/09 16:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/19/10 FrankNFurter Lovely little slice-of-life drama.One of the most heartbreaking endings ever.Very touching! 5 stars
12/24/08 Man Out 6 Bucks Wendy badly needs boyfriend. Story plays out daily in US. Why film? Streetcam will suffice 3 stars
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  10-Dec-2008 (R)
  DVD: 05-May-2009


  DVD: 06-May-2009

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