There are two kinds of people in the world: One group would say nothing happens in Wendy and Lucy, while the other will swear that everything happens. Both sides have a point. The optimists are looking at the tracks, and the pessimists (realists?) only see the oncoming train.
I have no idea what that means, either.
It’s hard to discuss the film without spoiling it, but that’s never stopped me before. Wendy (Michelle Williams) and her dog, Lucy, are on a trek to the promised land–Alaska. The forty-ninth state holds the hope of landing a job in a fish cannery, which is all the hope some people can envision. When her clapped out Honda gives up the ghost in semi-rural Oregon, it’s the beginning of a sucky day.
Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (who co-wrote the script with Jon Raymond) calls Wendy and Lucy a “post-Katrina” story. As bad luck (and criminal behavior) would have it, it’s also a post-The Big Short fable as well. While Wendy only says that she is going to Alaska, it feels like she is running away from something. Or at the very least, she’s leaving something behind.
There’s an old song called “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” The lyrics are about a millionaire that lost everything, but the title applies to Wendy and Lucy. Some people Wendy meets are helpful, but most of them have their own crap to deal with. A security guard (Walter Dalton) whose job it is to keep an empty parking lot safe, turns out to be kind, but there is only so much he can do. Will Patton (not Bill Paxton, nor Bill Pullman) plays a mechanic who has one of those “Well, here’s the deal…” speeches.
You could argue that the grocery store clerk (John Robinson) is only doing his job, but does he have to be such an a-hole about it? The answer is: yes. Yes, he does. Not because I agree with him, (I don’t) but because for people like him, being a one hundred percent dick is their default mode.
In one review I read, someone stated that they thought Wendy and Lucy is too short (it’s eighty minutes long, five of which are credits). The reviewer thought we should know more about Wendy’s background and motivations. I say that would be missing the point entirely, but it brings up another point: How many people like Wendy have we walked past in our lives? They are not living on the street, but they may be one very bad day away from losing what little they have. We don’t know their stories, nor do we think about them. At least with a homeless person, you can maybe fill in the blanks–while often resorting to stereotypes.
What I am saying is this: People are far more complex than your Screenwriting 101 instructor would lead you to believe. You can learn more about life by having a short conversation with a total stranger than you can from a Terrence Malick retrospective (no offense). Wendy and Lucy is loaded with metaphors, and Wendy represents those who reside in the margins, not in the text.