This movie's realism is almost painful. Time seems to slow down. This is not nail biting stuff. It's more like watching laboratory animals squirm. In a weird voyeuristic effect, the audience is forced to root for her while fighting the urge to jump in and help. The surrounding characters do their best to steer Wendy in the right direction, but are too immersed in their own hard times to get involved. Watching Wendy's big dream getting smaller every second adds to the calamity. When Wendy's car breaks down it's truly the car hell we all can relate to.
There's an assembly line of cameos that keep the drama intact without grandstanding. Williams creates an intensely honest portrayal, tragically consumed by her dilemma. She projects an even keel belying the despair under the surface. Humming to herself while playing it cool, we know she's about to burst. Wally Dalton as a Walgreen's security guard shows a bleak kindness that is both strange and sincere. Will Patton (always guaranteed to bring a movie up a notch) nails his turn as a sleazy yet fair mechanic. Will Oldham takes a break from the Bonnie "Prince" Billy singing career to play Icky with a cursing monologue, riffing on dynamite and Alaskan fish hatcheries. John Robinson's (Elephant) smarminess as the do-gooder store clerk will make you want to slap him. And Larry Fessenden's crazed "man-in-the-park" brilliantly divulges a twisted anecdote relevant to everyone's' hard times.
Director Kelly Reichard (Old Joy) manages to keep us focused on every detailed scene and nuance. Every shot is exacting and every silence is filled with thought provoking stimulus. Even little touches like the panning of cages in the dog pound or the word "Goner" written on graffiti on a background wall tells a story. Telegraphing real time, no soundtrack music is used at all.
This is one downer of a movie, reminiscent of the saddest parts of Broken Flowers, The Good Girl, and The Straight Story. This flick would seriously kick major butt as a short. As a feature film it becomes so drawn out that you end up wanting Wendy to just get on with her pathetic little saga. The problem with real life pain and real time story telling is that, as compelling as it is, there is no real transformation. We're left with the idea that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.
As marginalized as the characters are, the pain cuts deep. To Reichardt's credit, the depth is brought out by the actors' straightforward portrayals and the stripped down storytelling of this instantly engaging tale. W&L is about as real as it gets, with glimpses of hope only to be shattered. The haunting ending theme by Will Oldham puts the last existential nail in the coffin.
Wendy and Lucy ★★★✩✩
Starring: Michelle Williams, Larry Fessenden, Wally Dalton, John Robinson, Will Patton; Directed by: Kelly Reichardt; Rated R.