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December 29, 2008 | Comments ()


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Yeah. But Does the Dog Die?

Wendy and Lucy / Dustin Rowles

Film Reviews | December 29, 2008 | Comments ()


Wendy and Lucy is precisely the kind of film made for MOVIE CRITICS. It’s a film, perhaps, that only a MOVIE CRITIC could truly love — slow, dreary, tediously grim, kind of pointless, but ultimately moving, that is, if you haven’t already been moved out of your seat and into a theater with a louder, more pointless but less tedious film about a dog that actually does bite it in the end. See, for instance, Lisa Schwarzbaum, who LOVED Wendy and Lucy, and she should know! She’s an irksome, self-important blatherer who is going down with pop-culture’s Titanic, Entertainment Weekly (and the poor woman’s head is being pushed into the water by a million tweenery twatwaffles trying to stay afloat by using her body as a lifeboat). I suppose, too, that the MOVIE CRITIC part of my brain appreciated Wendy and Lucy; unfortunately, the part of my brain that wanted to be entertained or enlightened or touched just kept poking the MOVIE CRITIC part of my brain with a sharp stick and yelling, “When is something going to happen? I hate you. Why did you have to be a movie critic? You suck. I hope you die.”

It’s hard to describe Wendy and Lucy; it’s too simple, really, to be pretentious, and lacks the requisite quirky characters to qualify as a winsome indie flick. It’s not a character study, a relationship drama, or a slice-of-life film, either. It’s just kind of one of those films where somebody walks around, stares out windows, and looks at trees, and somebody else with a camera follows behind filming the person walking around, staring out windows, and looking at trees.

Wendy and Lucy is a lot like the Michael J. Fox movie, Doc Hollywood, only Wendy (Michelle Williams) is not a doctor, or rich, and there are no folksy townspeople doling out life lessons. But, her car does break down, stranding her in some small, remote town in the Northwest. Wendy is unemployed and, with the little money she has, is making her way toward Alaska, where she believes she’ll find summer work and, I suppose, some purpose. With a tiny budget and a car that won’t run, Wendy is caught shoplifting IAMS for her dog, Lucy. She’s subsequently booked and fingerprinted and is forced to spend a few hours in jail. During that time, Lucy — who was tied up to a bicycle rack outside the grocery store — disappears, and Wendy spends the rest of the film desperately trying to track her down, mostly by walking around, staring out windows, and looking at trees (though, she also spends some time talking to an older gentlemen with crazy eyebrows, who lets her borrow his cell phone).

There’s really not much else to say about Wendy and Lucy. The cinematography is decidedly indie, the script — adapted by a Jonathon Raymond short story by the director, Kelly Reichart (Old Joy) — doesn’t throw a lot of words at you, and the direction is smartly spare. It’s a bleak but realistic film, and like real life, Wendy’s biggest problems are mundane. But when you’re passing through while living out of your car, even the most mundane problems can be difficult to overcome.

But what makes Wendy and Lucy an objectively good film — whether or not it’s something you’d actually want to see — is the remarkable, heartbreaking performance of Michelle Williams. She’s unbelievable — she’s more than just a bad haircut and cheap clothes. Williams embodies this aimless woman who loves her dog, and she somehow makes this tedious film about a woman walking around, staring out windows, and looking at trees an engaging one to watch. It’s not entertaining or really that interesting, but Williams impossibly makes it worth paying attention to all the same.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.



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