I previewed this film back in October for its Delmarva premiere at the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival. October was notable because it was the time when headlines exploded over the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac financial crisis. It was the opening salvo that signaled to the majority of Americans that a recession was upon us.
When I saw the film, which was about a penniless woman on the road with her dog, I thought it was a perfect commentary in this current economy on the financial hardships that are now plaguing many, many people.
According to a recent report from the Associated Press, the bad economy has not diminished or very much hurt movie attendance in this country. Yet, the numbers have leaned more toward the movies of escapist fantasy or fictional high adventure. Movies that deal with harsh reality usually don't fare as well.
Going by that standard, this film is set to not do anything notable but I hope it overcomes that, and that people make the effort to go see it, because this is truly one of the best films of 2008.
Kelly Reichardt wrote, directed and edited this movie. A short story called "Train Choir" by Jon Raymond inspired her. Appropriately, the film begins on the tracks of a train yard in Portland, Oregon.
But, listen carefully and you'll find no choir. Reichardt strips the soundtrack of all music, save for a tune that the main character named Wendy hums. The rest is just quiet or the isolated harsh, natural sounds that most take for granted, but that become amplified here when one is forced to deal with them.
Wendy is forced to deal with them, as well as the harsh reality of her situation. That reality is that she has no money. She's on her way to Alaska because she's heard there's work up there, but minor problems turn into huge obstacles, as we eventually feel the weight of her poverty.
Oscar-nominated actress Michelle Williams plays Wendy, and Williams again proves what an absolutely committed performer she is. This is certainly not a glamorous role. For the most part, she wears a plaid shirt and blue hoodie. She has short, dark hair with a bobbed cut like a boy's. She doesn't have much dialogue, but her face and her body expresses so much.
With very little, Williams gives us mounds as high as the sky. Her character Wendy is involved in such a simple story, the plot of which has little action and a lot of waiting. Some will probably make comparisons to Reichardt's previous film Old Joy (2006).
Instead, I make comparisons to Williams' first Academy Award nomination for Brokeback Mountain (2005). Many criticized that film for being too boring and slow-paced. Similar moviegoers may cast the same aspersions here. This film is also slow-paced, but yet I couldn't help but be drawn in by it.
And, the reason I was drawn was non other than Williams. Not only do I give her another Oscar nomination for this, but I give her the win as well. Her performance is so basic, as to be raw, as to expose her character's core.
Michelle Williams' face, without uttering many words, speaks volumes. In her eyes, we see the loneliness, the emptiness, and lost spirit within her character. We feel it, as she does.
Wendy is a drifter, a wandering soul, but if you're wondering who the titular Lucy is. Yes, Lucy is Wendy's dog. Like the recent Marley & Me and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle books, this film may revolve around the relationship a person has with his or her four-legged friend, but it's so much more than that.
This small, independently made film opened in New York City on Dec. 10. It'll open in Philadelphia on Jan. 23, Washington, D.C. on Jan. 30, and Baltimore on Feb. 6. Keep this film in mind and search for it. For more information, go to www.wendyandlucy.com.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated R for language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.