Not too long ago, Time magazine printed an article examining the dog-movie boom at the box office. "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," "Bolt," "Marley & Me" -- all the biggies that have been getting major ka-ching! action were mentioned.
However, they failed to note one movie that's more tender, honest and emotional than all those movies combined: "Wendy and Lucy."
It's likely that the movie wasn't mentioned because its inexplicable R rating (for language) mostly prevents it from bringing in any kiddies -- aka the target audience for the aforementioned movies. But "Wendy" is every bit as much a sincere tale about the bond between a cute canine and its human master as those other films. And, unlike those films, you won't feel ashamed of yourself for getting all teary-eyed afterward.
Michelle Williams is the Wendy of the piece, a gal who doesn't have that much, except a bowl cut, her life savings in a money belt wrapped around her waist, and a dog -- named Lucy -- for a companion. Wendy's headed to Alaska to get some work at the Northwestern Fish cannery. Unfortunately, her beat-up Honda Accord breaks down in an Oregon town. While there, she shoplifts a can of dog food at the supermarket. But before she can head out the door, she gets busted and has a brief jail stay. Unfortunately, when she returns to the supermarket to get Lucy, who was last tied to a bike railing, she's nowhere to be found.
Adapted from Jon Raymond's short story "Train Choir," what looks like a rambling movie about some gal in search of her dog also happens to be one eerily relevant movie about contemporary economic hardship. Director/co-writer Kelly Reichardt, who established her style of naturalistic, deviously aimless filmmaking with the acclaimed "Old Joy" a couple of years back, gives us a portrait of a gal whose wayward existence -- washing up in gas-station bathrooms, picking up cans on the sidewalk, sleeping in her car -- makes her every bit as lost in America as her dog.
The movie practically rests on the shoulders of Williams, who's in every scene. (Reichardt almost follows her around the same way the adorable Lucy would.) Williams seems to enjoy playing plain Janes (her recent turn as the blond, willowy Marilyn Monroe to Philip Seymour Hoffman's hopelessly tragic Arthur Miller in Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" looked like it pained her). And she lets us know from the get-go how relatable and sympathetic Wendy's plight is. Your heart goes out to her because you probably know someone like her who's going through or has been in the same drama. (She looks and acts so much like one of our staff photographers that it kinda creeps me out.)
Stark, heartbreaking and blunt in its notion that, even in these troubled times, sometimes the love of a four-legged best friend just isn't enough, "Wendy and Lucy" is a dog movie for grown-ups.