Jacob Gehman’s review published on Letterboxd:
I've said before that I don't believe in love at first sight, and I stick by that, romantically-speaking. But creative output? Sometimes all it takes is a little sip of someone's art and I know they're making shit just for me--they're operating on my wavelength to a level few people can touch. Right from the get-go director Kelly Reichardt delivers this beautiful, aching film right on my wavelength. I paused the film an hour in and bought this and a couple more of her films on iTunes. Kelly Reichardt is a "pause and buy more films" kind of director.
Wendy is driving to find work in Alaska, presumably at a fish cannery, although there's no solid plans. Show up, find a job. That's the agenda. They need workers in Alaska, who needs more of a plan than that? Her meager cash is budgeted out to get her there--she has a list of the mileage and expected gas and food expenses. Her traveling companion and best friend is her dog, Lucy. However, her plans take a hit when her car breaks down in a small, no-name town, and the hits keep on coming as her once manageable wad of cash quickly looks impossibly small.
Honestly, it looks like a synopsis for a film I'd hate. Misery is fine--likeable, even!--but at a certain point it starts to feel like too much and the Criterion Channel synopsis (which includes the phrase "emotionally wrenching") was already too much misery for me. Also, I dislike dogs and find that "emotionally wrenching" films featuring dogs to be emotionally manipulative--something I acutely pick up on because I will not care about the dog and sense every strain of a film doing its damnedest to get me to care. But I hit play anyway (don't ask me why--maybe there's a god after all?) and got blown the fuck out of the water.
Even now I'm not sure what Reichardt does that's so brilliant. It's a simple story with an appropriately low budget style. None of the actors feel like actors--although realizing that Michelle Williams, who plays Wendy, has IMDb credits a mile long makes sense in hindsight--giving off a raw, realistic vibe like you'd get from a Safdie Brothers film. It's a story that feels like it's shining a light on real people in real situations. The story is fiction, yeah, but written with an understanding of the sort of small town Wendy and Lucy is set in, the kind of people who live there, and the mindset of a person who would be passing through on their way to the least exciting job in America. You never feel like anyone is acting, so keenly does Reichardt wrap us into this world. And she does all of this without ever making me feel like I was watching misery porn. Yeah, there's a lot of downer moments, and yes I cried and said "Oh fuck" to myself at certain points, but Reichardt deftly provides a main character that is easy to believe in. Yes, she's a touch naïve, but not unreasonably so given her age, and she's got an inner strength to deal with things. I really appreciated her ability to determine what her most important thing to do is, and focus on it single mindedly, even when getting stress from multiple areas.
While Williams's ability to convey a very appealing character is extremely key to Wendy and Lucy's success, Wally Dalton--as a Walgreens security guard--ends up a really warm, comforting screen presence. He made me think about the people who invade my job (working at a hotel, I sometimes get some people not dissimilar to Wendy) and the way I interact with them. The way he was able to stay within the bounds of the requirements of his job, yet still provide her with help. It was pretty inspiring as to how you can help someone in really minimal ways and it still has a huge impact.
Anyway, this is a wonderful little film. Can't wait to dive into other Kelly Reichardt films. Kind of wavering between 4 and 4.5 stars, but error on the higher rating because of the pause-midway-to-buy-more factor.