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May 5, 2009

DVD of the Week – Review of Wendy and Lucy (2008)


In Kelly Reichardt’s latest film, Wendy and Lucy, Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a young woman who is trying to start a new life in Alaska with her dog Lucy. Her car breaks down in a small town in Oregon and as her money is rapidly dwindling, she finds herself in dire straits. The only other actor of note is Wally Dalton, who plays a security guard who tries his best to help Wendy out.

What I like about this film is that, due to its serious themes, it would have been easy for it to drift into melodrama. But the film avoids sensationalism, and gives us a film that is utterly believable. There is not a single false note in Wendy and Lucy and it could almost serve as an objective recounting of actual occurrences.

I’ve often seen Reichardt’s style criticized for its lack of artifice. As I understand it, the argument against filmmakers who make realistic films is that there is no artistry involved. I would argue that restraint, in and of itself, is artistry. There is a scene in the film where Wendy, unable to sleep in her car and without money, is forced to sleep in the woods. She wakes up in the middle of the night to find a man standing over her. Her fear is palpable on the screen. It would have been easy to up the ante in this scene if Wendy were attacked, or even worse. But the film just allows the moment itself to be scary, leaving the audience to consider the possibilities.

In addition, at least according to the product description, the film is meant to make a political statement about the difficulties of living on the fringes of society. This is a message that comes through loud and clear, but it is never overt.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar acting of Michelle Williams, in one of my favorite female performances of 2008. What impresses me most about Williams, who is turning into one of my favorite actors, is that her performances are so varied that she is occasionally unrecognizable. Dalton was not an actor I recognized – despite over 35 years in the industry and dozens of credits, but he holds his own.

The Wendy and Lucy DVD is mostly a bare bones release and is not even available on Blu-ray. The only features are short experimental films by  Reichardt’s fellow faculty members at Bard College.

Other new releases this week: Chandni Chowk to China, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Last Chance Harvey, Momma’s Man