A recent Kelly Reichardt retrospective gave me the chance to catch two of her earlier films – Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy. I really loved Certain Women at MIFF last year (I recommend you try and see it) and the same delicate, languid style can be seen in her two films from ten years ago. Wendy (Michelle Williams) is travelling across country with her dog Lucy in an old car, heading for Alaska. She has heard that work is easy to get there and she sleeps in her car and counts her pennies to make them last until she gets there.
Life is precarious on the poverty line, though, and one small thing and then another knocks Wendy down. It is when Lucy goes missing, though, that her life and all her meticulous planning fall apart. Lucy is what makes it all bearable. Wendy talks to her, feels safe sleeping with her there and prioritises finding her food. Reichardt is able to get inside Wendy’s life so that you feel what it is like to be her, how vulnerable you are and how the simple companionship of a dog can be a bulwark against despondency.
We see how isolating it is to have no home, job, phone nor friends to support you. Strangers can be kind but there is no one who can really change Wendy’s prospects nor her downward trajectory. There is one telling scene where a supermarket employee rails at her for having a dog that she can’t afford to feed. The inference is clear, that she is culpable for her poverty, and this is a stance that reassures all those with money and stability that this is something that could never happen to them.
We can see though that this could happen to anyone. You can’t get a job without an address, you can’t get a home without a job. You can make ends meet but it only takes one unexpected event, one out of the ordinary cost to drive you under.
This may sound like a depressing film and in many ways it is melancholy but at the heart is a beautifully-drawn, resilient and complex character that, you hope, will get to that place where everything will be okay.
Screened as part of a Kelly Reichardt retrospective at ACMI.
Bechdel test – pass