(2008) dir. Kelly Reichardt
Low-key as it is, this earnest story of a young woman crossing the country in her dying car to take a job in an Alaskan cannery is of the ilk of “realist” cinema or something of naturalism. It tries to take on the perspective of the down and out, the fringe edge of society and to tell a story vaguely like that of Bicycle Thieves (1948), that is, of loss of the most meaningful thing to a person at the bottom of the social order. In Bicycle Thieves it’s about the ability to earn a living and much more, but for Wendy, played by Michelle Williams, it’s the only thing that she has that has any meaning, her dog, Lucy.
The whole plot of the film is this: girl and dog, girl loses dog, girl looks for dog, and since I’m not one for spoilers even among these simple plot elements, I’ll leave it up to you if you decide to find out how it ends.
Director Kelly Reichardt has an eye for place and a sense of tone and pacing (it’s slow, mind you), but something just didn’t work in this movie. It’s the kind of thing, that when it works, it’s wonderfully profound, a moving story, heart-breaking, enlightening. But the film doesn’t work that well. I think it’s a combination of the highly banal dialogue (meant to be naturalistic, I think. The assumption that this is how people talk, and that generally everyone is kind of dull and/or dim-witted). And the acting by what I am assuming are largely non-actors (again something you see a lot in “realist” films).
Non-actors in the hands of the right directors can convey a naturalism and a reality that really works. Maybe these were just bad actors with some bad dialogue to work with, I don’t know. Williams herself is fine. You follow her, and you care. But I also found myself frustrated that she didn’t just take the bus to Alaska and when she had over $500 in her pocket let things get so messed up.
Williams, I think, is one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood. I didn’t always think so, but have increasingly thought so for the past year or two. Here she is with no make-up, meant to be frumpy and mousy, and she is, but she is still so stunning, too.
I wanted to like this film more than I did. But I didn’t.