Film Review: Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy & Lucy (USA, 2008) is a sleepy character study about a homeless woman & her dog

Wendy & Lucy is a film that could be renamed “A Street Dog Named Lucy.” I tells the story of a homeless and nomadic American woman and her faithful companion, a dog named Lucy. The story is a slow character study that is lacking in characterisation, drama and detail.

The story is directed by Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy) and is adapted from a short story by Jon Raymond who serves as a co-writer along with Reichardt. At times it feels as though this is like a short story that has been stretched and padded out to feature length. This is a film that ultimately has a lean runtime and an equally slim plot.

Michelle Williams stars as the eponymous Wendy and acts in perhaps her most unglamorous role to date. She puts in an emotional performance as a drifter tom-boy who is just passing through a small town in Oregon en route to Alaska. Wendy sleeps in her car and makes money by collecting litter to exchange at the local recycling plant.

The audience is not offered Wendy’s backstory, which is disappointing. We do not know why she is living on the street or embarking on the journey that she chooses. We do get a glimpse of some poor judgement on her part when she shoplifts some dog-food from the local supermarket. She is caught and imprisoned for a day before agreeing to pay a $50 fine in order to secure her release.

Lucy goes missing whilst Wendy is in jail. The shop clerk responsible for Wendy’s imprisonment is an unforgiving and judgmental arsehole. He says that someone who cannot afford dog food shouldn’t be allowed a pet.

When Wendy discovers that Lucy is missing she is heartbroken and embarks on an enthusiastic search for her dog, scouring the neighbourhood and visiting the pound. Wendy has some setbacks but also receives some unexpected kindness from a security guard (Walter Dalton). It’s heartening to see but it also comes too late in the proceedings.

Wendy & Lucy is a directionless and aimless tale. While it is supposed to be a low-key look at the plight of the poor in America, without adequate characterisation or action the audience are not given any real reason to care about this girl and her pooch. Wendy & Lucy is ultimately a sleepy character study that is lacking in drama but at the very least there’s a charming dog in it.

Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Wendy & Lucy will screen 23rd April to 30th April as part of an exclusive Kelly Reichardt celebration at ACMI in Melbourne. For tickets and more details about the season of Kelly Reichardt screenings – including her latest film Certain Women which commences tomorrow – at ACMI head HERE.