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Essential Cinema: Wendy and Lucy

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 10, 2009 5:00PM

2009_4_10wendylucy.jpg One of the very best films we saw last year is getting an encore presentation this weekend at Facets. And if anything, Wendy and Lucy is more crucial now than when we saw it last October at CIFF. Its portrait of folks living on the margins of society, with tenuous means of support, feels more like a documentary than ever.

Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a rootless young woman traveling cross-country to Alaska with a vague plan to work in the canneries. Is she running away from something? The movie doesn't tell us. It's the fact of the journey that's important, and that she's alone, save for her beloved dog Lucy. Yes, it's a dog movie: so you know something will happen to separate them, which in this case is the cratering of Wendy's wreck of a car in a nameless small town in the Pacific Northwest. Scrimping as much as she can to preserve her shrinking nest egg, Wendy makes the mistake of shoplifting. The consequences of that bad decision force her to interact with strangers in order to try and salvage her trip. She's no longer able to keep the world at arm's length. It's a change that many Americans are coming to grips with.

This simple, heartbreaking story about loneliness is centered on an outstanding performance by Williams and a painterly eye for the environs of Oregon, which takes the time to savor details like the greenness of the grass in an empty field and the slow clatter of a freight train going by. It's only 80 minutes long, yet the movie has a patient, almost languid pace that's like a perfectly constructed short story.