“Wendy and Lucy”
At the Michigan
Field Guide Films

3.5 out of 5 stars

At first, “Wendy and Lucy” seems to be the indie-fied story of a crazy pet lady and her dog. The two are traveling across the country to Alaska where Wendy (Michelle Williams, “I’m Not There”) hopes to get a job in the fishing industry.

Unfortunately, her car breaks down in Oregon and she has no money, no phone, no friends and no home to return to. That same day, her dog Lucy goes missing and Wendy is left completely alone and adrift in a crumbling town.

The movie is sad in a subtle way. Wendy doesn’t know how to connect with other people, or maybe she just doesn’t want to. She says over and over again, “I’m only passing through,” as if to emphasize that she doesn’t belong with the out-of-work, stagnated townspeople. She considers herself above them because of her dreams of making something of herself in Alaska. The town has a seedy side to it, exemplified in the bums, fast talking mechanics and self-important grocery store workers who, in their desire for material gain, slowly eat away at Wendy’s dreams and self worth.

It’s hard not to wonder why she chose to live like a wandering nomad as she washes her face in a gas station bathroom, wears the same clothes day after day and sleeps in her car every night. In that respect, “Wendy and Lucy” is similar to “Into the Wild.” It’s about people who have been forgotten, who have given up the traditional and, in doing so, have slipped between the cracks in American society.

The movie gets a bit tedious at times — After all, for how long can someone watch a woman walk back and forth between a gas station and her car? Needless to say, there’s not much action. Even if the filmmakers were trying to highlight the monotony and loneliness of life, a bit more information about Wendy’s past could have been useful.

The actors all give strong performances, and Williams does an amazing job as Wendy; the audience can see her change as she begins to understand the pull of the material world. Wally Dalton (“The Mix-up”) is particularly skilled as the security guard who gets drawn into Wendy’s world — he perfectly portrays the average Joe who just goes about his business.

Photographically, focus falls on the little details — the light in the pine trees, the overlapping missing dog posters and the way Wendy leaves her clean clothes along the roadside in the hope that Lucy will be able to trace the smell back to her. Through these details, an atmosphere of grim loneliness is established. In the end, the feeling works its way into Wendy, the people in the town and even the audience.

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