In the ideal case, an independent movie is more than just a movie produced by a small studio or on a small budget. It's a movie that aspires to walk off the beaten path, to swim away from the mainstream as we like to say. To achieve this, independent films can tell stories that big studios find too risqué to produce, explore themes that won't please a large percentage of the shrinking amount of moviegoers. Or it can use uncommon ways to bring its message across, play with the technical side of filmmaking or choose the long way instead of the easy one.
In the last weeks, I have been lucky to experience many of the aforementioned techniques or paths an indie film can choose. I had the chance to see Linklater's brilliant interpretation of a coming of age film, Boyhood, to luxuriate in Ayoade's twisted stylistic rhythm in The Double and to experience the orgasmic fusion of low-budget South Korean filmmaking and Captain America gone dirty in Snowpiercer - among others. This week's film choice for the ALASKAthon is another indie movie that takes a different perspective on a certain story than a big studio would have abandoned - a very unusual perspective, indeed.
Wendy and Lucy could have been a road movie, it looks like it and it sometimes feels like it. The title refers to Michelle William's stoic, quiet character of Wendy, and her loyal companion, the dog Lucy. Wendy has set out to start a new life in Alaska when life happens in the worst ways imaginable. First the car breaks down, then Wendy gets caught stealing dog food and finally, Lucy disappears. The movie centers on Wendy dealing with these problems in a desolate small town in Oregon, so nothing much actually happens after the quiet hurricane that is the first 20 minutes.
Call it the influence of mass media or mainstream or call it evolution: it's hard to like a story with unlikable characters. Surely, there are moments of pity connected with Wendy, and the film manages to keep her characters mysterious enough for the audience to keep wondering what her backstory is. But the coldness and awkwardness she displays are hard to feel sympathy for. Surely, something has happened to her and surely, there are places in this world that can make people react like she does. But for the main character in a story, even a story as short as this one, she does little to keep us invested.
There are humorous scenes in Wendy and Lucy, but they are so few, I could count them on one hand. The parking lot guard and Lucy are the most lovable and fun characters in this story and they don't appear often enough to lift the movie out of its swamp of sadness. Everything appears evil and untröstlich?, despite the short glimpses of something beyond that facade - undoubtedly, what we see is what Wendy sees. And how she sees it.
Wendy and Lucy is an interesting experiment in independent narration and execution of a simple story, but it never manages to touch the audience in a way that would make it care about the film. While it offers a curious idealisation of Alaska that seems to be common (think Into the Wild), it hovers on the stuck-in-between side of the journey too much to be pleasant or even challenging.
SPECIAL ALASKATHON MOVIE BREAKDOWN
How capturing/ engaging/ interesting is the film? (out of 5 northern lights)
How gorgeous does the film - or the Alaska in it - look? (out of 5x Timothy Treadwell's hair)
NO ANSWER BECAUSE THERE'S NO ALASKA IN IT
How much does the film itself make you want to go to Alaska? (out of 5 sledges)
WENDY AND LUCY
2008 • USA • English
director Kelly Reichardt
author Jon Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
★ Michelle Williams, Lucy, Walter Dalton