I have an interpretation of Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy (which opens in New York and L.A. this week) that probably has no resemblance or connection to what Reichardt or star Michelle Williams had in mind when they made this sincere and smart drama. The 80-minute feature is the story of young Wendy stranded in Oregon, on her way to Alaska, faced with searching for her only friend: a lost dog named Lucy.
Reichardt’s sun-soaked story is a quiet and somber portrayal of a woman at the end of her delicate rope. Wendy’s car breaks down, she starts running out of money, she has no cell phone, and must bathe herself in public restrooms. Worst of all, she can’t find Lucy, as the dog disappears when Wendy is arrested after shoplifting some pet food.
So, here’s my interpretation: Wendy and Lucy plays to me like a small-town noir film from the 1970s, but without any violence or exclamation. Instead, it’s as if all the moments of heightened action and noise, were pulled out of the final product. Imagine Billy Jack without the kung-fu, or Walking Tall without the criminals. Stylistically, Wendy and Lucy feels like one of these films, except the hushed moments on introspection are all we see.
Michelle Williams gives a soft, but entirely compelling, performance as Wendy. Lucy, Reichardt’s real-life dog, gives a charismatic performance as herself. And, the final scene, is a heartbreaker. There may not be a lot of fireworks, but Reichardt’s latest film isn’t about that. It’s about a feeling of loss, and it’s quite effective.
During the opening night Q&A at the Film Forum on Wednesday, Reichardt and Williams remarked that they sought inspiration from British “kitchen sink” dramas, like early Mike Leigh or Stephen Frears. Sure, whatever, I don’t see it. Those films were much chattier and more political. In its strong and creative way, Wendy and Lucy is about the notes you don’t hear and the activity you don’t see.