By Afra Nariman
Wendy and Lucy (2008)
Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Stars: Michelle Williams, Wally Dalton
Wendy is nearly broke, drifting through an Oregon town on her way to Alaska, when her car breaks down. Shortly thereafter, she is arrested for shoplifting food for her travel companion, her dog Lucy. When she returns to where she had left Lucy before being arrested, Lucy is gone. In a panic, Wendy embarks on a frantic search to find her missing companion.
Wendy and Lucy is an intimate tale of the classic human-dog companionship. Most films that depict the relationship between a person and their dog focus on showcasing their time together, rather than illustrating a story of what happens after a dog owner realizes their worst nightmare; that they’ve lost their “best friend.” That’s the story that Reichardt tells in this film. We are given some time to get to know Wendy and her relationship with Lucy. We learn that they are drifting, void of much money, and on their way to Alaska. They have nothing and no one else other than each other. It’s not long until things begin to go wrong. Wendy’s car breaks down. Then after realizing that she’s out of dog food for Lucy, Wendy winds up getting arrested for attempting to shoplift some for her. It takes a few hours for her to be processed and eventually post bail. By the time she returns to where she had left Lucy tied to a pole, Lucy is gone. We learn what we need to about Wendy, through watching her in these moments of despair and hardship.
Reichardt doesn’t try to over-dramatize scenes or events. Her film very intimately follows Wendy’s day-to-day activities. There isn’t necessarily a clear-cut plot line that the film follows, which allows it to become incredibly immersive. It progresses at an extremely natural and simplistic pace, which makes it feel realistic and easy to relate to on a personal level. We don’t get the feeling that anything that we’re watching is implausible, unlikely or exaggerated. Wendy and Lucy is unbelievably grounded in its story, its tone and its pace.
Wendy’s evolving “friendship” with a security guard is one of the most humane elements of the film. Early on, the same security guard kicks her out of the parking lot that she had been parked in overnight, but as her problems grow and her circumstances worsen, the security guard becomes the closest thing to a friend that Wendy has. In his actions and his words, we are given a portrayal of the kind nature of humanity. He helps to keep her emotions grounded, allows her to continually use his cell phone to check up on the status of her lost dog and even spots her some cash at the end of the film. Ultimately, the old security guard’s hopefulness proves to be right; Lucy is found! When Wendy goes to pick her up from a local foster home for lost dogs, we experience a heart-warming, yet wrenching finish in which we see Wendy put her best friend’s well-being before her own feelings.
Wendy and Lucy is an example of very natural filmmaking. It is a minimalist film in the truest sense of the term. Although not given too much information about Wendy, we feel as if we know her by the end of the film because of the intimacy of the story we watched. The cinematography of the film and its landscape: the pacific northwest, both go a long way in absorbing our attention with every passing minute. Although not explicitly forced, the film portrays the emotions that come with having next to nothing, and then losing what it is you have; for Wendy, her dog. As the film concludes, we are left with Wendy’s calming hum that we so often hear throughout the film, and a warm feeling wrapped around our hearts. I could think of no better ending to this simply told, yet emotionally absorbing film.