“Wendy and Lucy” a gem of independent cinema

Ben Raymond

“You can’t get an address without an address; you can’t get a job without a job,” writes Kelly Reichardt in her new film “Wendy and Lucy.”

“It’s all fixed.”

Reichardt’s frustration is understandable. As an independent filmmaker, she ought to know “It’s all fixed” against her.

The film industry has always been run by the suits, the shallow white men with deep pockets and a lurid fetish for cash and compromise.

Never has this been more observable than now, in this epoch of moviemaking.

I suppose that’s why Michael Bay can get $150 million to pinch out cinematic turds like “Pearl Harbor” and “Transformers,” but a project like Reichardt’s can’t get two nickels to rub together.

Everything is fixed. It might all be against Reichardt, but “Wendy and Lucy,” the film she shot over three weeks in Portland, Ore., and which boasts a paltry box office gross of $56,050 turns out to be one of the brightest gems of the year.

Sadly, with a distribution of eight (yes, eight) theaters, it’s a gem few will ever see.

Wendy Carroll, played by “Brokeback Mountain” star Michelle Williams, is driving with her beloved dog Lucy to a lucrative summer job in Alaska.

As she passes through Portland, her car breaks down, stranding her with only a few hundred dollars and thousands of miles to go.

Without transportation and almost completely broke, Wendy is desperate and is soon arrested for shoplifting dog food from a local supermarket. When she returns, she finds Lucy has disappeared.

Wendy begins a frantic search for Lucy that brings both dire misfortune and genuine peril. The obstacles presented to her are immovable and force her to choose between her own happiness or that of her one and only companion.

Up-and-coming filmmaker Reichardt (“Old Joy”) penned and lensed this, her sophomore effort. Reichardt’s direction is calm and pensive. She sneaks into Wendy’s crisis unobtrusively, lingering invitingly on the story’s evermore precarious tranquility.

Reichardt writes Lucy as a surrogate companion for Wendy. Throughout her life she has obviously had little or nothing to love and in Lucy has now found a willing recipient of her stifled compassion.

We see a unique manifestation of the cinematic “other” in Lucy. The entire film revolves around her and yet we see her only briefly. She is the reason for every decision, the catalyst for every action, the object of every sacrifice Wendy is forced to make.

Their relationship provides a peculiar and penetrating avowal of people’s deep-seeded need to love another – someone, something, anything – a need that is far more powerful than our need to be loved in reciprocity.

The emotional and spiritual richness of the film is carried single-handedly by Williams’ courageous performance.

Williams’ turn is a veritable tour de force, a beautiful and cataclysmic portrayal of a life lived in free spirit and defiance of what cannot be changed. She roots herself in her character, possesses her so completely as to become almost unrecognizable.

She emotes both the bravura and naked vulnerability demanded of her tortuous character.

It’s a crime she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar last week, though this came as no surprise.

The Academy is blind to films like “Wendy and Lucy” – it’s a small film that isn’t about the Holocaust and is centered on women (whom they find icky).

Yet unrecognized, make no mistake; Michelle Williams is one of the best actors in film today. Period.

Behind Williams’ heartrending performance, “Wendy and Lucy” is a devastating portrait of sacrifice, loss and the unflinching need for people to love, an exemplar of everything independent about cinema.