“Wendy and Lucy”

Kelly Reichardt’s film, Wendy and Lucy, is a mesmerizing adaptation of Jon Raymond’s story, “Train Choir.” Reichardt well captures Raymond’s Pacific Northwest–a solitary, derelict region, yet populated with quick conversationalists and in-breakings of charity, bringing to mind other Oregon films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or even The Postman (indeed, Will Patton makes a showing both in Wendy and Lucy and The Postman).

I was particularly struck by how Reichhardt takes ownership of the short story as a film. From the voyeur-like opening slide of the camera, long peering at Wendy and her dog Lucy from behind the bushes, Reichardt is a master of suspense on a thread. Indeed, the film regularly points up how thin our securities are–how little stands between us and either danger or destitution. (For example, what looks like the insecure exposure of sleeping in a car can, by the end of the film, look like a veritable fortress compared to the alternatives.)

The very sparsity of the film is also short-story-like (yea, Raymond-Carver-like). Michelle Williams (as Wendy) carries an entire story on her back, wearing the same drab apparel for the entire film. Reichardt never lets the camera give us one of those sprawling, breath-taking panoramic views of lush Oregon hills. Instead, she takes a vow of cinematic chastity and poverty. The environs of the story are equally drab and depressing–which is just to say that Reichardt’s camera honestly looks at–honestly sees–the delapidated, broken-down strip malls and car ports of our gutted towns and imploded rural spaces. The only thing that has a shot at beauty in this film are the relationships.

Reichardt also resists the easy supplement of a score: there’s no soundtrack save Wendy’s occasional humming of a few bars that, from the opening shot, bore their way into your soul as chords of enchanted melancholy. There is a discipline to her visual story-telling which is remarkable.

And she manages to pull off this discipline without falling into either Joyce-Carol-Oates-ish violence or Hollywood’s uplifting cliches. As a result, she doesn’t buy into the lie that so-called “reality” is only monstrous and merciless. Instead, she makes room for charity–but without falling prey to our sitcom-induced desire for resolution.

An excellent film.