Written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt, from Raymond’ story “Train Choir”
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
This is a film for our time. We’re all hurting. We’re all scared. We’re all wondering when the axe will fall and how long we’ll stay afloat when it does. (Pardon the mixed metaphor.) Our economic situation, to say the least, looks grim.
That’s why we need a film like Wendy and Lucy. Not to cheer us up with a joyous piece of escapism (we need that too, but you won’t find it here), but to show us how bad things can get when you’re walking on the financial edge. Comparing new movies to those of the last depression, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is Gold Diggers of 1933; Wendy and Lucy is Grapes of Wrath.
Only this isn’t an epic family drama based on a best-selling novel. It’s a small, sad little tale, adapted from a short story, shot on a shoestring.
Wendy (Michelle Williams) hopes she can find work in Alaska; she apparently can’t find any back home in Indiana. But first she has to get to Alaska. When we first meet her, she’s been on the road a long time, with her old car and a lovable dog named Lucy. She still has a long way to go–if her money holds out. She sleeps in her car and watches every penny.
In other words, she can’t afford disaster. And when her car breaks down in a small Oregon town, one disaster leads to another. Some are of her doing (she does one very stupid thing), and some are just bad luck. Wendy can’t afford bad luck.
The people she meets are usually polite, sometimes cruel, and occasionally helpful. But none of them offer, or realistically could offer, as much help as she really needs.
Shot and edited in a stripped-down, simple style, without music or much of a back story, Wendy and Lucy doesn’t offer the escapes of technique, humor, or celebration of the human spirit. At times I resented what Raymond and Reichardt were putting me through. But by the end, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.