Wendy and Lucy
Girl’s Best Friend Can’t Make Her Rich
Starring: Michelle Williams
By Colleen Dillon
Wendy and Lucy was getting a fair amount of buzz a few months back at film festivals and even got a mention in O Magazine. Perhaps this attention led to a tendency to look for more in the movie than was actually there because, while Wendy and Lucy is a sweet movie dealing with the strains of poverty and the companionship between a girl and her dog, there is nothing present that would suggest to me anything more than a Lifetime story adapted by a film student.
What little plot there is involves Wendy (Michelle Williams) driving to Alaska with her dog, Lucy, on the assumption that she will be able to find a job there. On her limited budget of something like $900 for the entire venture, beginning in Indiana, Wendy sleeps in her car, changes her clothes in public restrooms, and steals snacks for Lucy. During one such theft, Wendy is apprehended and must leave Lucy tied outside of a grocery store while she is taken to jail for mug shots and fingerprinting. Upon Wendy’s return, Lucy is gone and Wendy embarks on a search for her missing dog.
Much of the rest of the movie involves Wendy wandering around, calling to Lucy and worrying about money. A main point of the film seems to be driving home the realities of how difficult it is to get by when you don’t have a job. In a more economically prosperous era, this message might be a call to philanthropy for the richer sect of American society, but with over half a million jobs lost last month alone, Wendy’s struggles are all too real and make the film taxing to watch. It seems somewhat sadistic to create a film with close-ups of hand-written expenditure lists and soul-crushing reminders that homelessness is one minor disaster away when much of the audience is living watered-down versions of the same story. Sometimes reality is too brutal to watch on screen.
The film’s limited dialogue mostly revolves around Lucy so much of the emotional content comes from Michelle Williams’ subtle expressions. I can’t say I don’t appreciate subtleties in acting, but there is nothing impressive about Williams’ blank stares and squints of worry – at least nothing impressive enough to win her two Best Female Performance nods at festivals. It seems to be her appearance alone that makes Williams a likeable character, walking the streets with a cute boldness, her hair mussed from sleeping in her car. The casting for this film was excellent – Williams’ face embodying the underdog girl, clinging to some youthful hope; Wally Dalton, the grandfatherly security guard; John Robinson (so likeable in his long-haired role in Lords of Dogtown), the annoyingly self-righteous grocery boy with the constant blush of angry pride. The actors’ faces, more so than their talent, make their characters believable.
Wendy and Lucy is, once again, cute, but doesn’t have enough content to satisfy a viewer interested in more than average people doing average, mundane activities. Film your next-door neighbor for a day and I’m sure you’ll have about as much, if not more, entertainment value on tape. One benefit of Wendy and Lucy, I suppose, is that audiences will have an idea of their options if their car ever breaks down in an unfamiliar town and they lose their dog. Maybe it will also serve as a deterrent to any eager job-seekers who were planning on undertaking a lengthy road trip in a poorly maintained car.
It would be unfair of me to recommend that you not watch this film. You may appreciate its earnest simplicity. I merely think that Wendy and Lucy didn’t need to be made, especially not now. I only hope that anyone in Wendy’s initial situation of planning for a move to Alaska will have the foresight to forget the dog and the failing car at the outset and spend their nine-hundred-something dollars on a plane ticket.