Why isn’t the Seattle filmgoing community all abuzz about Northwest director Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy? It topped Film Comment’s year-end list of theatrical releases, made it to #4 on the indieWIRE 2008 Critics Poll, and has been nominated for two major Spirit Awards. But it didn’t get here until 2009, which pretty much kept it out of our best-of-2008 gabfest. Too bad, because it’s a gem, and deserves a better run that it’s got here so far. Thus NWFF is picking it up for five days, starting Friday.
The story is simple: A young woman (Michelle Williams), on her way to Alaska where she hopes to find work, is stranded in a small Oregon town when her car, which is also her home, breaks down. At the same time, she is briefly detained by the law, and her dog, Lucy, disappears. The film is driven by the suspense of problems which might seem small to some, but are huge to Wendy: How much will it cost to get her car fixed? Where will she sleep? What happened to Lucy?
I knew that Wendy and Lucy would be well-made and compelling, and it is. But I didn’t expect to be so affected by Wendy’s situation, which is similar to the low wage workers in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickeled and Dimed, who end up living in shabby motels because they can never manage to put together a security deposit. Wendy has just enough cash and other resources to think she has options, but we can see they are actually few. Some critics have commented on her “poor choices” or “lack of sense.” I felt only compassion for her, though, and reserved my judgment for the film’s other characters, who have the power (whether they know it or not) to make Wendy’s life a little better, or a lot worse.