07 February 2009

At the movies: Wendy and Lucy.

Dog lovers who found Marley and Me too sappy and Hotel for Dogs too unrealistic now have their prayers answered. This is a film about how only dogs really embody basic human decency anymore, and it has the understated grace of Bresson and the earthy disillusioned pragmatism of Varda. Wendy (Michelle Williams) is trying to make her way north, to Alaska, to get a job working in a fish-processing plant. All she has in life is a beat-up old car and her dog, Lucy. When the car breaks down in the Pacific Northwest, everything is thrown into chaos. But when Lucy ends up missing after a run-in with the police, Wendy is adrift.

So the trek for work becomes a desperate quest to find a loved one, because that’s what we, as humans who love, do. And hope is a subversive act. Michelle Williams’ central performance is enthralling, and she better articulates the nameless dread of being alive in these uncertain times, buffeted about by money and opportunity, than countless essays, articles, or Dateline exposés. It’s a remarkable performance and a remarkable film. There’s one tracking shot through a nicely enough appointed animal shelter that reduced an audience of the most hardened big city film critics to weepy piles of jelly, not because of manipulative elements or playing unfairly with expectations, but because of its acknowledgement that hundreds of similar stories unfold every day and that’s just the world we live in.

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