Wendy and Lucy

Alone except for her beloved 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 short story written by 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 a bit frustrating. At its core, Wendy and Lucy is a carefully observed film about sympathy and generosity at the dirty-fingernailed edges of American life. In some ways, it feels like an old folk song come to life. Watching it, 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 modern limits and depths of people's duty to one another, though. If the film sputters a bit in conveying much of substance about what Wendy actually thinks about her predicament beyond the surface exasperation of someone never really dealt much of a winning hand, 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 see, in the personal, a broader political statement.

Housed in gate-fold cardboard packaging in turn stored in a reinforced cardboard slipcover made of 80 percent mixed-source recycled material, Wendy and Lucy's DVD release sets a new standard for eco-friendly attractiveness; the case feels both unimpeachably sturdy and environmentally conscious. Like Criterion, distributor Oscilloscope also numbers the spines of their titles, so this title rates an "OSC 4" stamped above its spine lettering. With simple design and a motion-animated menu screen, the film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, preserving the aspect ratio of its theatrical exhibition, and it comes with a 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound audio track, as well as optional English subtitles.

The disc's supplemental features exhibit Reichardt's magnanimous nature, as she gives an assist to four of her Bard College colleagues by presenting a combined five of their experimental short films. Critic and curator Ed Halter's introductory essay (he's also a Department of Film and Electronic Arts professor at Bard) is reprinted on the cardboard packaging, or viewable on three scrollable screens. Two 16mm, black-and-white observational offerings from Peter Hutton, Boston Fire and New York Portrait, Chapter II, frame their stated moments of investigation with painterly composition. Peggy Ahwesh's eight-minute The Scary Movie, starring children and featuring a discrete soundtrack, highlights the importance of effective sound design in evoking unease, and manages to come across as partially evocative of both David Lynch and Charlie Chaplin — no small feat. Based on the journals of Soviet neuropsychologist A.R. Luria, and the filmmaker's own travels to Uzbekistan, Jacqueline Goss' digitally animated How to Fix the World focuses on clashing cultures and how language shapes our shared experience. Les LeVeque's lowercase-insistent flight, meanwhile, strobes and stutters iconic moon landing footage, reaching for an ironic, performance artist's profundity that never quite materializes. Artfully partitioned trailers for other Oscilloscope releases are also included, which is very cool, but the total lack of interview footage or indeed any additional material with Reichhardt is indisputably a blow to the re-play value of this DVD. B (Movie) B- (Disc)


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