Sunday, February 05, 2012

Underrated Movie #147: Wendy and Lucy

Title: Wendy and Lucy
Year: 2008
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers: Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt, from the short story “Train Choir” by Raymond
Stars: Michelle Williams, Lucy the dog, Will Oldham, Will Patton 

The Story: Destitute drifter Wendy, traveling with her dog Lucy, is making her way towards Alaska looking for work, but they get separated after a series of misfortunes in Oregon. As Wendy’s search for Lucy becomes more desperate, she realizes how untenable her life has become.
How it Came to be Underrated: Reichardt has a small-but-devoted following and she seems to have no trouble getting her movies made, but she’s still far too little-known. 

Why It’s Great:
  1. Reichardt’s first movie won her a lot of fans, but the most important one was clearly Michelle Williams, whose offer to star in the next two movies no doubt helped quite a bit with financing. Williams’s stunning, utterly unglamorous performance shows how you can be totally naturalistic and yet heartbreaking at the same time.
  2. Reichardt’s movies are sometimes lumped in with the “mumblecore” genre, but she and her characters are far more concerned with real world problems, rather than awkwardness or enuii. She really has more in common with the Italian Neorealists: Basically, this movie is about what happens to one poor girl who finds herself living both The Bicycle Thief and Umberto D. at the same time.
  3. Whatever happened to Will Patton? As sort of a poor man’s Gene Hackman, he made a nice career for himself by being the best thing about a lot of not-so-great movies and TV shows. I always thought he would helm his own “Law and Order” or “CSI” spin-off some day, but he just disappeared… until he showed up again in Reichardt’s movies, of all places, with his gruff charm still intact.
  4. SPOILER: I’m not a dog person, so I thought I would be immune from this movie’s tear-jerking, but boy was I wrong. In fact, early on, when an asshole-ish character says, “if a person can’t afford dog food, they shouldn’t have a dog”, I found myself thinking, “Well I kinda agree.” Then I got to the end, when Williams herself ultimately comes to that same conclusion, which is one of the most painful moments I’ve ever seen onscreen. I choke up every time I even hear the title of this movie!
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Reichhardt’s other two movies are also excellent. Her first, Old Joy, tells the tale of two estranged friends on a hike in the woods, and her third, Meek’s Cutoff, brings back Williams for an allegorical wagon train period-piece.

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD and Netflix Watch Instantly, as are all of Reichardt’s movies.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Plunder Pooch!


j.s. said...

This one is really as good as De Sica? Apart from Will Oldham, who is always worth watching, I was incredibly underwhelmed by OLD JOY. And I actually thought MEEK'S CUTOFF was one of the worst films I saw last year, with some of the poorest screenwriting especially, and no real sense of what to do with its genre status or art film ambitions.

Matt Bird said...

No, it's not as good as De Sica (but what is?), just in the same wheelhouse. This is my favorite of the three, for what it's worth, but it sounds like she might just not be your cup of tea.