In this time of recession and economic unease, it’s easy to qualify Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy as merely an exemplary critique of America’s domestic issues and social ills. But much like the dreary and simplistic headlines dominating our current state of affairs, this sort of analysis doesn’t get at the heart of the problem, or this incredibly fascinating picture. The film goes far beyond the surface tragedy of its premise, which finds a young drifter named Wendy (Michelle Williams) and her canine companion Lucy suddenly stranded in a small Oregon town, momentarily halting her trek to Alaska in search of work at the canneries. Much like WALL•E and Shotgun Stories, Wendy and Lucy is incredibly focused, churning sound, mise-en-scene, and camera into a distinct and engaging relationship between time and space. The film becomes an aesthetic response to pressing ideas concerning class and family, challenging the strict definitions of such terms through the nuances of human interaction.
The film begins with a methodical long take following Wendy and Lucy through a dense forest/park, passing by trees, through darkness and light, all while highlighting the ambience of nature and setting up a spatial poetry linked to this specific moment in time. Wendy and Lucy ends with another stretching of temporal space, this time within the constricting confines of a railroad car headed into the unknown distance. Every element/plot point/monologue in between comes to define this aesthetic arc and Wendy’s slow and somber road to isolation and unanimity. With Old Joy already a wondrous notch in her indie gun belt, Kelly Reichardt moves a step toward master status with Wendy and Lucy. This film is not just about the politics of inaction, or the social ramifications of poverty, or any other theoretical points that inevitably lose track of the very real fact that human beings are losing the very objects that define their humanity. Wendy and Lucy transcends these ideas and becomes such an object, a corollary to the indulgence of greed and self-righteousness, for Reichardt, for movies in general, and most importantly for the viewer.