Sunday, January 25, 2009

Talk Cinema, 1-25-2009, Wendy and Lucy

After 6 weeks, Talk Cinema has resumed at the AFI for the start of the Spring session. Today’s film was “Wendy and Lucy,” an unabashed indie film in every way (and the third movie I have seen this month featuring a yellow Labrador Retriever, same breed as my incorrigible puppy.

The 4th feature from director Kelly Reichardt, Wendy and Lucy follows a brief slice of life for young Wendy, a barely out of her teens waif and her beloved dog Lucy, enroute from Indiana to Alaska to find work. We find them as they sojourn briefly in Oregon. Down on her luck and her money, Wendy foolhardily shoplifts some dog food for Lucy, leaving Lucy tied up outside of the store. Wendy is apprehended and arrested and spends several hours in jail before being allowed to pay a fine and get set free. By the time she returns to the store to retrieve Lucy, Lucy is gone. Much of the movie involves her efforts to find Lucy despite increasingly daunting odds.

This turns out to be a much bleaker movie than I was prepared for, though, like all good films, it has managed to linger in my mind for days after viewing it. The only star is Michelle Williams as Wendy, Lucy played by the director’s own dog, Lucy (why bother to contrive fictional names?). Most people remember Williams as Heath Ledger’s wife in “Brokeback Mountain” (and his 'baby mama' in real life) but she remains that indie film staple: the relatively unknown actor. Her portrayal is low-key, almost invisible, yet she displays enormous depth without the usual actorly histrionics. Her Wendy, like the movie itself, lingers. Talk Cinema moderator Bob Mondello referred to Wendy and Lucy as the first recession era movie, likely the first of many.

The movie is scoreless, save for the tune Wendy hums throughout the film (to the annoyance of many in the audience). The photography is competent but unremarkable. The acting throughout is good in that indie way, with none of the disquiet we feel watching non-actors in low-budget films. All of the actors have acted before in something or somewhere.

The movie is bleak, but not slit-your-wrists bleak, more of an Edward Hopper/Andrew Wyeth/Hughie Lee-Smith bleak. Sure won’t do much for Oregon tourism, though. Never been and based solely on this film, feel no desire to go. Ultimately a difficult film to recommend to all but the most die-hard film nerds (like myself).

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