WENDY AND LUCY and A SINGLE GIRL: Separated at Birth?

I’m gearing up for Kelly Reichardt’s MEEK’S CUTOFF this spring, and in preparation, sought out a film of hers I’d not yet seen, the 2008 release WENDY AND LUCY. It’s such a simple and effective piece, beautifully rendered visually. It’s also driven significantly by sound. Dialogue operates here mostly at the level of basic function (“Where’s the nearest garage?” “I lost my dog.” “How much will that cost?”), allowing the sound design of trains and traffic to enhance the tension in quiet dramatic turning points of epiphany or realization, as Wendy’s situation worsens. As the film basically asks us to linger with the protagonist moment to moment, replicating the feeling of real time, it reminded me of another young-woman-in-trouble-in-slow-motion-film, A SINGLE GIRL (Benoit Jacques, 1995).

Of course the films are very different – A SINGLE GIRL’s Valerie (Virginie Ledoyen) spends the first fifteen minutes of the film telling her boyfriend she’s pregnant, that she’s keeping the child, and arguing with him about whether or not they should stay together. She then proceeds to her first day on the job as a maid at a four star hotel, and … that’s it. We literally follow her for the rest of the day as she meets new co-workers, changes sheets, intersects with guests, and tries to call her mother. Then the film ends. (After one epilogue scene set in her future.)

WENDY AND LUCY, on the other hand, has a more classical plot. One story event does indeed lead to the next; the path of Michelle Williams’ Wendy is causal in that her decisions – to steal dog food, to call her sister hoping for help — lead inevitably to the film’s conclusion.

That said, the similarities are notable. Both are young women at a crossroads. Both are without resources, both are reserved, both are surviving. We have the pleasure of watching each go through simple yet evocative routines: Valerie walking beautiful hallways, bringing guests-with-no-problems a gorgeous breakfast, Wendy walking empty streets, collecting cans, washing herself in a dingy bathroom.  Texturally  different but similarly paced, with the same sense of longing and loss, and the feeling that these cumulative hours on film represent a massive turning point in each woman’s life, these films are a great pair.

WENDY AND LUCY trailer here: