The Pacific Northwest on display in Kelly Reichardt’s latest film isn’t restorative, as in her lovely last, Old Joy, the lust forests of which temporarily heal an ailing friendship; nor is the setting here milked for moody, romantic potential as in the recently released Twilight. In Wendy and Lucy, the filmmaker instead harnesses the region’s notoriously forbidding grey skies to conjure an atmospheric bleakness suited to the impoverished underbelly of Portland.
Waylaid by car problems on the suburban fringes of the city, Wendy and her dog, Lucy — previously seen in a small role in Old Joy and here elevated to star status alongside a gloriously subdued Michelle Williams — face an increasingly dire financial situation. Reichardt, working from a script co-written by John Raymond and based on his short story, attentively chronicles a life held together by little more than duct tape as it slowly comes apart.
As in her debut, River of Grass, the director strips the glamour from the American road trip of popular imagination, detailing a journey borne of economic desperation rather than Kerouacian impulse towards free-spirited adventure and self-discovery: Wendy brushes her teeth and washes up in gas stations, sleeps in her car, and meticulously tracks dwindling funds in a notebook as she makes her way northwest in hopes of landing a job at one of Alaska’s fish canneries. But this isn’t “Into the Wild” recast with a female lead, and the state’s mythical allure (Sarah Palin notwithstanding) matters less as a wilderness mecca for Wendy’s purposes than as a possible source of steady employment; vagabondism isn’t a lifestyle choice, a countercultural but a result of gradual squeezing out.
Click here to read the rest of Kristi Mitsuda’s review of Wendy and Lucy.