" Oh come come now. Just because you sold your soul to the devil, that needn’t make you a teetotaler. "
— Edward Arnold, The Devil and Daniel Webster

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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People change. Our family moves. We leave home for college. We commit to a relationship or we decide to end one. It always amounts to leaving our old selves behind and trying to find a new one.

Wendy and Lucy is the story of a woman who, with her dog, has begun such a transformation, uprooting herself from Indiana, driving across the country, heading ultimately for Alaska. What she plans to do there, we do not know, but we do know that Alaska is as far away from Indiana — not just geographically but conceptually — as you can get.

You and Me Against the World

Wendy hasn't finished what she started
Wendy hasn’t finished what she started

Oregon, however proves to be a stumbling block. As my wife said about the many conflicts, “it’s just one thing after another, isn’t it?”. Transportation problems keep Wendy from leaving Portland on schedule. She runs into some trouble with the law, which leads to more trouble with her dog Lucy. Each new problem costs more and more money, which was scarce and carefully rationed to begin with.

I’ve read descriptions of Wendy and Lucy that make it sound very dry. You could say that not much happens. But if the film lacks anything in plot, it makes up for it in character and intimacy. The world isn’t cruel to Wendy, but it is indifferent. She meets people who are willing to help, but they’re not going to make any major sacrifices for a transient they just met. But since she’s our protagonist, we want to reach out and help. We want to protect them and offer advice.

The movie is shot on a small budget, but cinematographer Sam Levy and director Kelly Reichardt have some very good ideas. They shoot medium and close, keeping us well acquainted with the characters, without bringing us uncomfortably near. There are two or three visual jokes that keep the film from seeming completely like a documentary. A cutaway under the hood of Wendy’s car made me laugh, as did a shot of a six dollars.

Whether intentional or not, these flourishes remind us that the movie is drama and not documentary; it is constructed, and there are rules. That makes the structure of the movie, particularly the ending, seem not just more plausible but also more meaningful.

Universal Law

The final scenes are at first unsatisfying, but on reflection they fit perfectly.

Wendy started her transformation before we met her. But Portland itself seems to be keeping her from finishing it. If this were a documentary, Wendy could put Oregon behind her and continue North. But this is a drama, and good ones have rules. So when writers Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond start wrapping up the story, they come back to what it means to change your life.

Wendy rode out the worst of the circumstances that kept her from moving, but she still hasn’t let go of Indiana. Alaska beckons, but it demands that she finish the transformation that she started.