Wendy and Lucy is not easy to watch. The follow-up to director Kelly Reichardt's critically adored Old Joy, it also takes the Pacific Northwest as its setting—this time a dingy, unnamed Oregon town where protagonist Wendy (Michelle Williams) is waylaid on her journey from Indiana to Alaska. Supremely under-funded, all Wendy has is a crappy Honda Accord, a small pile of quickly dwindling dollar bills, and her dog, Lucy.
Reichardt's film could almost be called unkind as it slowly drags the viewer through the tedious realism of Wendy's worsening situation: her car breaks down, she gets busted shoplifting, and most anxiety-producing of all, Lucy goes missing. So we shift uncomfortably in our seats as we're made privy to the harsh lights of gas station bathrooms where Wendy gives herself bum-baths, long, cold, merciless shots of lost and orphaned dogs at the pound, and the furrow of Wendy's brow as she balances pragmatism and panic in the face of mounting car expenses.
It all really sucks, and it's easy to feel angered by everything Reichardt inflicts on you, and the degree to which you feel the weight of this other person's problems—someone whose past you don't know, and are therefore unable to either blame or give the benefit of the doubt for having arrived at such difficulties. Most egregious is the torturous fact that Reichardt cruelly lets Lucy's fate hang in the balance for most of the film, heaping tension and unease upon more of the same.
Although filmed in August of 2007, Wendy and Lucy couldn't feel more relevant to the current atmosphere of economic anxiety, in a time where things can quickly go from bad to worse as people in the least stable positions of society slide off into ruin. Reichardt's film is an exactingly focused look at that—and, by necessity, a film about exactly what you don't want to see.