WENDY AND LUCY directed by Kelly Reichardt, screenplay by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond based on a Raymond story, with Michelle Williams, Will Patton, Wally Dalton, John Robinson and Larry Fessenden. A Mongrel Media release. 80 minutes. Opens Friday (February 6). For venues and times, see Movies.
It breaks my heart a little bit that Wendy And Lucy was shut out of the Oscar nominations. The awards-season spotlight would have helped propel Kelly Reichardt's tiny, delicate marvel to the audience it deserves.
Like Reichardt's previous feature, Old Joy, Wendy And Lucy doesn't shy away from the fact that its low-income characters are living in Bush's America, where people below the poverty line might as well not even exist.
Reichardt has said the inspiration for the film came from watching news coverage of Katrina, when barking-head anchors blamed the dead of New Orleans because they failed to get out of town before the levees collapsed. Though Michelle Williams's Wendy comes from Indiana, not Louisiana, she's similarly disenfranchised.
"I thought of Wendy as being invisible," says Reichardt during an interview at the Toronto Film Festival. "And Michelle was pretty invisible there - she was completely unrecognized when we were shooting in Portland. It was a good place for her to be."
The film never makes a point of its social critique, though. There just isn't time.
"You're strictly focused on what's happening with that character in the moment, of that character who is not, in Wendy's case, in a situation to be looking at how the world is doing. She's in survival mode."
Reichardt has the highest praise for her star's performance, which, she's quick to point out, was entirely un-starlike.
"You know, when it's all this small, this stripped-down, there's not a lot of buffer between cast and crew. Everyone's sort of deeply in it. And she was game to go the distance with this very buttoned-down, inward person, which I think was a scary experience for her. At times she'd say, ‘Are you sure? Is this enough?' She's always questioning what she's doing."
Williams likes to find her characters in the small things, says Reichardt.
"For me, that really worked for Wendy," she says, "because I think of Wendy as a person who's looking at everything like a to-do list: ‘These are the things I have to do to get through this moment, to get through this day.' If she looked at the big picture of her situation - and at one point she does get a glimpse of it - it'd just be overwhelming. It'd be crippling."
After the 18-day shoot, and six months of editing, Reichardt realized she needed a little more footage to complete the film. "Michelle and I went back twice," she says, "with a two-person crew, a three-person crew, to get the intimate moments that are just too difficult to get with 10 or 13 other people around. She kept trying to go back to Portland to vacation, and I would get wind of it and descend on her. She's a really good sport; she just kept giving."
There was also the matter of directing her own dog as Williams's co-star, a much more complicated role than the one she'd played in Old Joy. But that, at least, was easy.
"It's all about the stick," Reichardt says with a laugh. "The stick and where the stick is."
Kelly Reichardt on balancing character study and social commentary:
On creating a character with Michelle Williams:
On finding the movie in the editing room: