Wendy (Michelle Williams) and Lucy (a dog by the same name, owned by the director) are the protagonists of the road movie Wendy and Lucy. It was directed by Kelly Reichardt, who also co-wrote the script, along with Jon Raymond. The movie is based on a short story by Jon Raymond (Scott, 2008).
The movie Wendy and Lucy is aptly classified in the ‘road movie’ genre as the story not only focuses on Lucy’s road journey from Indiana to Alaska, but the film also portrays ‘mobility as essential to narrative structure and political commentary’ (n/a, From Classical Hollywood to Counterculture).
This will be further elucidated in the subsequent paragraphs.
The movie commences with Wendy walking Lucy in the park, and Wendy humming to herself. This sets a pleasant and gentle tone for the movie, when unexpectedly, Wendy cannot locate Lucy. ‘Lucy, come on back girl! Where’d you go?’ She says. And the credits appear. This poses a hint towards the plot of the movie, and how the story is going to progress. It also depicts the love Wendy has for Lucy, and how vital the dog is in Lucy’s life.
Wendy is not an incompetent ‘drifter’, i.e. a person who has no established address or any certain means of support. The notebook in which she records each of her outflows and the money belt in which she carries her dwindling amount of money are examples of her being of parsimonious disposition. She is portrayed to be almost genderless, in shorts and a plaid shirt, her hair cropped really short. Wendy is an androgynous ‘nobody’, a reluctant American representative of the hard times due to the financial crisis through no fault of her own. With less than $600 in savings, she hopes to make it to Alaska, with Lucy, with no predicaments arising.
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Things go skewed however, when Wendy’s car breaks down in Oregon, and she realizes the bag of Kibbles for Lucy is almost over. She makes an ill-conceived judgment to lift some cans of dog food from the local super market, only to be caught by an over-zealous employee, who ensures that she is taken to the police. This leads to a cause and effect relationship. The effect of this decision is spaced through the remaining movie. She needs to pay a $50 fine in order to get out of jail, to avoid further complications. Like a domino effect, on returning, she realizes Lucy has gone missing and she cannot locate her anywhere.
Having no address of her own, she is all but derided when reporting her missing dog to the dog pound, even more so when she tries to speak to the auto-mechanic about fixing her car. This is in some ways illustrative of the common preconceived discernments that people have today; based on appearance, work status, lifestyle and the way one presents himself or herself. The reactions depict the arrogant materialistic culture that prevails in the United States today. When she is compelled to pay a 50 dollar fine, the administrator mentions that she can pay by credit card. The mechanic makes a deal of ‘only’ 30 dollars to tow her car, giving the impression that the amount is meager.
The use of the dog, Lucy, as the narrative’s structuring absence, helps in making the movie different from other road movies as she refuses to leave town without locating her beloved canine. Time plays an imperative role in the movie. The movie follows a temporal order, because within time, cause and effect take action, and each of the events that occur are shown in a chronological order. The scenes have been spaced one after the other to allow audiences to participate and make sense of the story. Moreover, it spaces the scenes within the small town, and enables the audience to watch the scenes as they unfold, from the course of morning to night, merging into the next day.
The narration in the movie is often left to the imagination of the audience, as there is limited dialogue in the movie, with the audience left to draw opinions from the body language and expressions on the actor’s faces, Wendy’s in particular, in addition to the surrounding environment that is so picturesquely portrayed. The audience makes sense of the direction only with the execution of each scene.
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Mise-en-sene plays an integral role in the revealing of the story and discourse of Wendy and Lucy. The lighting is dull, often showing the dull gray sky of Oregon, depicting the current bleakness of Wendy’s life. The first thing Wendy does when she gets out of her car in the morning is to retrieve a dish and a bag of kibble. This is shot in an enduring, fixed take that rings the bell of monotony. It can be felt that the pair has numerous mornings such as this, grey and cold. The setting is dull, gloomy and poignant; where even the town is shown to be dreary, people being scarce, with exceptions of teenagers remarking ‘oh look, there’s a lady sleeping in the car’, an amiable security guard and a few others who readily dismiss her. This aids in the audience to infer the feeling of non-existence felt by Wendy, making the setting and the lighting so unexciting it almost appears grey. However, just when this can contribute to the audience sympathizing with Wendy, the character refuses to accept the offer of making a call from a friendly, aged security guard’s cell phone, as she is no beggar. She is adamant in not receiving any help, although people who offer to help are few. The dull colours of the movie also reflect the bleak times of the US depression that had been ensuing, when times seemed deplorable.
The shots give the impression that the movie is less about Wendy than about the surrounding environment. Reichardt strives to shape Wendy amidst the picturesque landscape of the small town in Oregon, placing her into a bigger frame, like when she prepares to take shelter in the forest, or goes about sticking ‘missing dog’ fliers around the vicinity, or when she is attempting to fall asleep in the car, seeming lonely, demoralized and dejected. The long shot of a downcast Wendy leaving the dog pound aids in attaching the audience to the callous realities that people often disregard or ignore.
The use of elaborate sound effects – a musical score, the screech of trains, almost inaudible cricket chirps, whoosh of passing by cars, barking of dogs in the dog pound, helps in adding more substance to the movie, to the dullness, as well as directing the story and scenes of the movie.
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The ending of the film is perhaps the best scene in the movie, when Wendy does manage to find her dog, only to learn that she has been adopted by someone else. She goes from jubilation to selfless sacrifice by walking away, appeased by the fact that Lucy is in a good stable environment that could possibly provide more to the dog than Wendy could. It passes the impression of a ‘hero’ who comprehends the difficulties of life; that one has to put another’s happiness over others, and that materialism does not define life. The decision tries to negate the current materialistic arrogance of ‘the survival of the wealthiest’ but instead infers that one often has to undertake decisions that will benefit others and not one’s self. In spite of being simple in story, Wendy and Lucy had a deep underlying meaning, which was further illustrated with the excellent direction, cinematography and sound of the movie.
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From Classical Hollywood to Counterculture . Retrieved on 22 March 2010, from http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Independent-Film-Road- Movies/Road- Movies-FROM-CLASSICAL-HOLLYWOOD-TO- COUNTERCULTURE.html
Scott, A. O. (December 10, 2008).
This (New) American Life, The New York Times, Retrieved on 22 March 2010, from http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/movies/10wend.html
Scott, F. (June 2, 2008).
Wendy and Lucy. Variety. Retrieved on 23 March 2010, from http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=festivals&jump=review&id=2531&revie wid= VE1117937319