‘Wendy and Lucy’ Explores Landscape of Loss

BY Arts Desk  February 11, 2009 at 2:18 PM EDT

Art is rarely insular. It’s often a reflection of desperate times and common crisis, an echo of the day’s news. The new film, “Wendy and Lucy,” co-written by Jonathan Raymond and based on his short story, “Train Choir,” is a quiet reflection on personal catastrophe, and is especially relevant now, as real families and individuals are struggling through hard economic times.

“Wendy and Lucy” follows Wendy, played by Michelle Williams, as she heads to Alaska to work in a cannery, save money and get her life on track. The trip is derailed in a sleepy Oregon town; Lucy, the dog, gets lost, and car trouble and dwindling money compound Wendy’s problems.

After Hurricane Katrina, Raymond and independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt began to think about “people’s responsibility to each other in a crisis and the fate of people who might not have the resources to rebuild their lives when something catastrophic happens.”

Raymond’s story-telling is straightforward and without flourish, as is Reichardt’s filmmaking. The film’s most prominent landscapes: the natural beauty of the Northwest and its pitches of stillness, silence and light, and Williams’s face, her pale skin almost translucent to emotion. Under Reichardt’s direction, both landscapes seem to ache.

The film’s production also closely follows Raymond’s story. “I wrote the story with the geography of my neighborhood in mind. That Walgreens [in the film] is literally two blocks from my house…. I was thinking about that parking lot and then that’s the parking lot they ended up shooting in.” And while Raymond and Reichardt’s shared storytelling complement each other, so do their personalities. “I think we have similar inner clocks,” Raymond said. “We both sort of like things slow.”

“Wendy and Lucy” is the second of Raymond’s short stories to be adapted and directed by Reichardt. The first, “Old Joy,” starred musician Will Oldham, and is another tale of living adrift in the Pacific Northwest, as two old friends reunite on a camping trip.

Raymond’s new collection of short stories, “Livability,” was published in December. In addition to co-editing ‘Plazm,’ an art, culture and design magazine, he’s working on his second novel and has finished drafts of a historical screenplay, which also takes place in the Northwest, for Reichardt. He’s also working with director Todd Haynes on an adaptation of ‘Mildred Pierce.’

Listen to Raymond read a passage from his story, “Old Joy”: