One Woman and Her Dog: Kelly Reichardt's Latest Latest Film Revives Italian Neo-Realism in America's West

By Gilbey, Ryan | New Statesman (1996), March 9, 2009 | Go to article overview

One Woman and Her Dog: Kelly Reichardt's Latest Latest Film Revives Italian Neo-Realism in America's West


Gilbey, Ryan, New Statesman (1996)


Wendy and Lucy (15)

dir: Kelly Reichardt

You don't rush Kelly Reichardt. Her dreamy 1994 debut, River of Grass, was an anti-Bonnie and Clyde story (the main characters believe they've committed a murder, but haven't). Twelve years later she made Old Joy, an elliptical and, yes, dreamy study of the briefly reignited friendship between two former pals, one poised to become a father, the other practically a hobo. With uncharacteristic haste, she has now directed her follow-up. And if Wendy and Lucy is another Reichardtian story of an odd couple adrift in America--assuming that so underproductive a director can be awarded her own adjective--it does vary in one crucial respect: the dreaminess is gone. It's time to wake up.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is travelling with her scrawny golden retriever, Lucy, to Ketchikan, Alaska, to find work at the Northwestern Fish cannery. "They need people," Wendy says in one of many weighted utterances in a script (by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond) that is haunted by Beckett and Pinter. Woman and dog stop in a nondescript town in Oregon, where they snooze in the car. Next morning, a security guard (Walter Dalton) with a tobacco-yellow mane gently asks if the vehicle can be moved, but it won't start. Wendy crunches the key in the ignition, struggling to conceal her despair like a boozer trying to hold steady his seventh highball.

Until now, Michelle Williams has been known for one scorching moment--recoiling mutely from her husband's infidelity in Brokeback Mountain - which proved how forceful minimalism could be. She plays variations on that note of strangulated misery throughout Wendy and Lucy. Apart from a brief crying scene, she stays reined-in for the entire film, wearing a tomboyish shag-cut that suggests a hairdresser's revenge. Wendy uses little more than a hurt look to implore a supermarket manager not to call the police when she is caught shoplifting. She stifles her panic when the cops haul her away, leaving Lucy outside the shop. When she returns to find Lucy gone, she has to plead with a whole new set of officials at the dog pound, where the pooch may be languishing.

The film is taken up with Wendy's search for Lucy - she pins handmade posters around town, and that nice security guard lets her use his mobile to hassle the pound. They chat. …

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