Thursday, January 22, 2009
In this scene, Wendy faces the rigid values of a young store clerk who insists that her crime must not go unpunsihed and she needs to be made "an example" of. The older store manager reveals a wisp of compassion but allows himself to be overruled by his young employee's sense of absolutes. But for Wendy, this means being separated from her beloved dog that she left tied up outside the store.
Wendy and Lucy (Oscilloscope Pictures)
Director is Kelly Reichardt takes a very low-key, naturalistic approach. Some have compared her film to Italian neo-realism or the British kitchen sink dramas. I wouldn't go that far but she displays a graceful skill at conveying Wendy's situation. There's nothing fancy here, just an attention to detail and respect for the characters. Reichardt wants to look at a person who lives on the fringes of society and without any margin for error. One unexpected expense - like the car repair - can mean disaster. Wendy comes to represent the increasing number of people who, in this harsh economic downturn, are just a paycheck away from being homeless. Her problems are complicated by her beloved dog. Since Wendy can barely take care of herself, she ends up facing some difficult decisions about taking care of her dog. Wendy ultimately has to depend on the kindness of strangers, like an old security guard who takes pity on her and lends her money and a cell phone. In the film, Reichardt shows two diverse reactions to Wendy's situation - the clerkat the grocery store feels no compassion for Wendy's predicament whereas the old security guard reaches out with kindness. In a sense Reichardt is asking viewers how we want to respond to the suffering we see in the world.
Williams delivers a very good performance. But you also feel that there's a certain calculation to it. Whenever you frump up an attractive Hollywood star to play a plain Jane you do feel like they are positioning her for awards. There's a perception that if women take off their make up or allow themselves to look bad, that alone is somehow a sign of good acting. But Williams delivers a sincere, sad performance as a woman who has to make some heartbreaking choices.
Wendy and Lucy (rated R for language) never rises to greatness, and it tends to strike a single note as Wendy becomes the victim of repeared misfortunes. In contrast to Mickey Rourke's character in The Wreslter who is a man whose unfortunate circumstances are a direct result of his choices, Williams' Wendy comes across as more passive and a victim. Consequently we feel a bit more manipulated. But Wendy and Lucy is admirable for looking to those on the fringes of society. It is a delicate and compassionate portrait of someone living precariously on the edge, and it asks us to respond to their predicament with kindness rather than indifference.
Companion viewing: Frozen River, A Boy and His Dog, Old Joy