Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is a young woman apparently wandering through life, yet seeking direction. Lucy is her dog, a “yellowish-brown” mutt, her emotional compass and her only friend. They’re on their way to Alaska with a vague idea about getting one of those lucrative seasonal fishery jobs. It’s more a dream than a plan, really.
When an odd young drifter she meets on the road suggests she look up this one guy he used to know in Alaska, she genuinely takes this as a serious lead on work. But even Wendy’s tentative hopes start to fall apart when her beater of a car dies in a small, shriveled-up Oregon town, and the precariousness of her situation—no money, no emotional support beyond Lucy—is made plain.
The first great joy of this tart little portrait is Williams’ achingly contradictory performance as Wendy, who is at once a basket case of wistful loneliness and a model of determination, even as it sometimes leads her astray. But it’s difficult to condemn even the one less-than-wise choice she makes, borne as it is out of desperation and hopelessness. She’s doing the best she can with the very slim hand she was dealt, and the Wendy hardness behind Williams’ pixie face is deeply affecting.
The second great joy is director Kelly Reichardt’s (Old Joy) talent for bringing something profound to the smallest acts and the fewest words of her naturalistic cast; character actor Will Patton is the only familiar face among the small roster of unknowns. Reichardt, who wrote the script with Jonathan Raymond, has a pensive eye that can turn something so simple as the offer of a handful of cash or the stubbornness of righteous youth into quietly striking moments that whisper volumes about social connection (or lack thereof), compassion (or lack thereof) and generosity (or lack thereof).
Wendy and Lucy lacks nothing, though. It’s a deceptively easy, effortlessly lovely film.
WENDY AND LUCY
Michelle Williams, Will Patton