Alone except for her dog Lucy, a retriever, and some vaguely defined dreams of a new life, Indiana native Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is driving through the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at a fish cannery. When her car breaks down in a sleepy, boarded-up Oregon mining town, however, the thin fabric of her already tenuous financial situation comes apart, and she confronts a series of increasingly dire economic decisions, with far-ranging repercussions for herself and Lucy.
Working from a screenplay written with her Old Joy collaborator Jon Raymond, director Kelly Reichardt uses a formal minimalist style to construct an emotionally impressionistic road movie that feels rudderless in ways mostly enthralling but also sometimes frustrating. A carefully observed film about sympathy and generosity at the dirty-fingernailed edges of American life (one is reminded of the refrain from U2’s “One” — “we get to carry each other” — about the privilege of shared sacrifice), Wendy and Lucy also touches on the limits and depths of people’s duty to one another. If the film sputters a bit in conveying much of substance about what Wendy thinks about her predicament, Williams herself is never less than hypnotizing. And in the current recessional times, the film’s blank canvas and broadly sketched melancholic tones serve as an empty vessel for those who would watch a film and like to turn the personal into the political. (Oscilloscope/filmscience, R, 80 minutes)