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Sun Mar 22 08:18:55 MDT 2009
NY Times Sunday Magazine, March 22, 2009
By A.O. SCOTT
IT IS NOW ALMOST A YEAR SINCE “Wendy and Lucy” played in Cannes — not a
watershed moment in the history of cinema, perhaps, but a quiet
harbinger. Kelly Reichardt’s third feature, about the struggles of a
young woman and her dog stranded in an Oregon town en route to Alaska,
was certainly among the more admired films in a strong festival, where
it showed out of competition. But by the time it opened in New York last
December, the movie, a modest, quiet, 80-minute study in loneliness and
desperation, seemed like something more — not so much a premonition of
hard times ahead as a confirmation that they had arrived.
“Wendy and Lucy,” with Michelle Williams in one title role (the other
belonged to Reichardt’s dog), had a successful art-house run and found
its way onto many critics’ year-end best-of lists (including mine).
There was some talk of an Oscar nomination for Williams, who was so
believably ordinary in her look and so rigorously un-actressy in her
manner that you could easily forget her celebrity. But “Wendy and Lucy,”
released by Oscilloscope Laboratories, a small and ambitious new
distributor started by Adam Yauch, a member of the Beastie Boys, would
have looked a little awkward alongside the other Academy Award nominees.
It’s true that the big winner, “Slumdog Millionaire,” concerns itself
with poverty and disenfranchisement, but it also celebrates, both in its
story and in its exuberant, sentimental spirit, the magical power of
popular culture to conquer misery, to make dreams come true. And the
major function of Oscar night is to affirm that gauzy, enchanting notion.
The world of “Wendy and Lucy” offers little in the way of enchantment
but rather a different, more austere kind of beauty. And while Wendy, at
the end of the film, is poignantly, even devastatingly alone, the film
itself now seems to be in good company. This spring, as the blockbuster
machinery shifts gears from “Watchmen” to “Wolverine,” a handful of
small movies from relatively young directors are setting out to expand,
modestly but with notable seriousness, the scope of American filmmaking.
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