"Wendy and Lucy": A Woman and Her Dog, or Just a Dog?

Wendy and Lucy **
For a film whose tag line is “On the long road, friendship is everything,” there’s precious little friendship on offer in Wendy and Lucy. Friendship, to the best of my recollection, involves emotion, and interaction, and, um, people.

Michelle Williams stars as Wendy, a young woman on the road to Alaska in search of work. And stars is definitely the right word, as she’s practically the only human in the film with a speaking role. The other lead is Lucy, her beloved mutt. But because much of the film revolves around what happens when the two get separated, Williams must carry the entire movie on her own narrow shoulders.

Williams was brave and moving in Brokeback Mountain, conveying volumes with a few words and glances. Too bad she doesn’t have the same impact here, when the camera is on her nearly every moment of the film. She ultimately draws our sympathy, but not our interest

The problem isn’t Williams’ performance really, it’s the plot. Too little happens in this film, and it happens much too slowly. Maybe a director who knows how to embrace minimalism (Jim Jarmusch comes to mind) could have made this riveting, but director Kelly Reichart (who also cowrote the screenplay) doesn’t have his touch. The glacially-paced “action” covers several days of Wendy’s life, and seems to unspool in real time.

To make matters worse, there is little dialogue and even fewer clues to who Wendy is and why she’s on the road (Is she a drifter by choice? running away from trouble? desperate for work?) So without information, dialogue, or even a voiceover to ground the what action there is, we really don’t care as much as we should whether Wendy’s beat-up Honda Accord gets fixed, whether she is reunited with Lucy, or whether she ever gets to Alaska. And that indifference turns out to be a good thing, since the film ends abruptly with many basic questions still unanswered.

Despite a nomination for best feature from the Independent Spirit Awards, Wendy and Lucy turns out not only to be the story of a woman and her dog, but also something of a “dog”

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