Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Film Appreciation - A Dog With No Dog Food

This week in Film Appreciation, Jay Burleson has a wake up call on a road trip, as he takes in the indie drama Wendy and Lucy.

Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Michelle Williams, Lucy the pup, 
Wally Dalton, Will Oldham

Wendy and Lucy is a mumblecore-ish drama starring Michelle Williams as Wendy, a young woman who finds herself drifting across the country with her best friend, her dog Lucy. Short on money and with a broken down car, Wendy decides to steal some dog food, and when a young store clerk catches her, she is taken to jail. Lucy gets free from outside the store and Wendy cannot find her. Most of the film is based on Wendy trying to get Lucy back. This is an independent film and I respect the way it was made, as Michelle William's apparently lived in Kelly Reichardt's garage apartment during the filming process.

I enjoy these movies a lot for the scenery and shot selection they show me, and for generally having some nice low-key acting. I am a fan of less-is-more when it comes to performances and movies like this usually have strong subtle acting. This is true here as Michelle Williams delivers a wonderful little bit of acting as the down on her luck Wendy. She's matched with a truly enjoyable display by a Walgreen's parking lot security guard, played by Wally Dalton.

The security guard and Lucy have a few encounters with each other and Wally Dalton really shines as a man trying to do right by the people he meets in life. For music fans, it's of interest to note that Bonnie Prince Billy (real name Will Oldham) shows up for a bit in the movie as well. I only knew him as a musician so I was surprised to find out that he has quiet a few credits to his name, including Kelly Reichardt's 2006 film Old Joy, in which Oldham plays one of the leads.

There are a few tough scenes in this movie, namely the grocery store scene, in which Wendy obviously intends to steal two cans of Iams dog food. She's caught and ratted out by a young store clerk who is probably still in high school. Wendy is taken back to the manager's office, where the young clerk explains what happened. Wendy attempts to talk her way out of it, and by the look of boredom on the store manager's face, it seems he's willing to let it slide. The young clerk begins talking about the rules being for everyone and that, "If you can't afford dog food then you shouldn't have a dog." The manager still looks like he doesn't care to but calls the cops anyway. It's an interesting scene that gets you to think about what you'd do in the situation. I probably would have just paid for the two cans of dog food myself and let Wendy go on about her business, as it's not like she stole something trivial like a pack of cigarettes, but that's just me.

A lot of the film plays in silence, with just the surroundings to listen to. The car ride to the police station is mostly this, minus Wendy trying to explain to the cop that her dog is tied up in front of the store. The cop tells her to relax and when Wendy returns, the pup is long gone. This leads to an awkward exchange between Wendy and the store clerk as Wendy returns to look for her dog while the clerk gets a ride home. Wendy yells at his mother as she drives him away, saying, "Your son's a real hero!"

Wendy and Lucy takes place in a small Oregon town and it feels right. The environment is true and makes me think of Sulligent, AL., where my grandmother lives, only this place is probably a bit bigger than that. Everything plays just as authentic and sincere as I imagine Reichardt envisioned and the slow pace/small town aspect is really appealing to me.

We get a few solid glimpses into Wendy's life, changing clothes and washing up in a Shell station bathroom, hearing teenagers walk by in the middle of the night as she sleeps, and an incredibly cumbersome phone conversation with her sister in which her sister rushes off the phone with no regard to talking to her at all. These things, mixed with the loss of her dog, obviously play on Wendy and lead to the decision that she makes at the end of the film, but it obviously also has a lot to do with being awoken in the middle of the night by a strange rambling man while sleeping in the woods. This is the straw that breaks the camel's back in terms of some of the life choices Wendy has been making. It's safe to say that Wendy's life is pretty chaotic, and therefore Lucy's life is too. The ending is a good step for the both of them.

If you're looking for a slow-burning film with realistic settings and characters, then look no further than Wendy and Lucy. It's a good film with a solid lead performance from Michelle Williams, someone I've liked since Dawson's Creek, and it's a nice, relaxing way to end a night.

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