Friday, December 5, 2008

WENDY AND LUCY: The Year's Best Love Story

Need and limitation inform so much of Kelly Reichardt's new film that it's a shoo-in for the movie of the year -- if, that is, you're looking for a film that shows us current times in small-town America. It is also, and I am not kidding, the most wrenching love story of the year (maybe several). The subject: what happens when you cannot take care of the thing you most love.

I was among those movie-goers not particularly overjoyed with Ms Reichardt's earlier Old Joy. I found it minimal to the point of boring, and I cared only a little about the two guys at its center. Nothing seemed at stake in Old Joy except a friendship that was not much to begin with. This is not true of WENDY AND LUCY, in which an entire life, shaky at the start, soon seems to be heading off-course and downhill at an alarming rate -- even though the movie, taking its sweet time to detail the goings-on, still only adds up to only 80 minutes, including credits.

Reichardt (above) is a minimalist, for sure. But within her small frame she sees a surprisingly amount. She's a realist, too, and not in the Bresson-ian manner in which honest human behavior is sometimes removed from every character on view. All Reichardt's characters are real and behave in ways mostly small but always intimate and believable, and the director/adapter (from a story by John Raymond) has cast her film exceedingly well. In the supporting roles two wonderful performers stand out: Walter Dalton, who plays a security guard, and Will Patton as a mechanic. The former has one of those screen moments so (literally) generous, quiet and pure that the catch in your throat will seem more than justified.

At its center the movie is lucky to have one of our most interesting young actresses, Michelle Williams. From Species through Dick, The Station Agent and Brokeback Mountain, I don't know that Ms Williams has ever had a dishonest moment on screen -- not even in a disaster like Deception, which came and went at the speed of light earlier this year. Here, she is very subdued, watchful, not exactly distrusting but certainly not expecting much. That her character, Wendy, takes that first step toward her own descent makes the movie all the more real. And the actress is, as ever, a joy to watch. So's the dog Lucy, who plays Lucy. W.C. Fields might not have wanted to spend screen time with a mutt like this, but Ms Williams certainly seems happy to. As, I think, will audience members who watch this lovely, sad film.

Oscilloscope Pictures (the interesting little company that recently gave us Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie) is releasing Wendy And Lucy this coming Wednesday, December 10, at NYC's Film Forum for a two-week run. One month later it will open in Los Angeles and in other markets the following week, so those of you don't reside in or near our coastal culture capitals may still have the chance to see it on the big screen. Eventually, I hope, we'll find it on DVD.

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