27 September 2008

NYFF #2: Wendy and Lucy

One of the highlights of this year's main program is Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy, the follow-up to her justly acclaimed 2006 indie Old Joy. Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a twentysomething drifter passing through rural Oregon on her way to seek work in Alaska. Her sole companion is her dog Lucy, but the two become separated after Wendy is pointlessly arrested following a pathetic attempt to shoplift a few pieces of food. Most of the film's remainder is devoted to Wendy's efforts to find her dog.

If this scenario sounds unbearably sentimental, it doesn't play that way onscreen, thanks both to Reichardt's laid-back, assured direction and Williams's singular performance; beaten down by the world and constantly on the defensive, her Wendy is simultaneously aloof and sympathetic. Reichardt once again demonstrates a good eye for the landscapes of small-town America, but the setting is hardly romanticized. In some ways, Wendy and Lucy is less overtly political than Old Joy—there's no equivalent here to the earlier film's brilliant use of liberal talk radio as purveyor of both consolation and deeper alienation—but the many references to homelessness and unemployment are impossible to miss.

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