'Wendy and Lucy' offers a nuanced slice of life

"Wendy and Lucy" is a quiet yet interesting film about a young woman who stops in a small Oregon town on her way to Alaska and so sets in motion events which are rife with unintended consequences.

Whether this film is among those now referred to as the latest incarnation of neo-realism is perhaps not as consequential as is the studied examination of Wendy, who is faced with a perfect storm of problems: she is painfully alone; is arrested for shoplifting and so loses her dog, Lucy; her car is broken, irretrievably. It soon becomes clear that these events will test her resiliency and determination to maintain a fragile equilibrium.

This film, with no backstory, with only the sparest of dialogue and plot, explores corners of the human heart that are immediately recognizable yet too often ignored by mainstream Hollywood. Commercial films have, for decades, insisted that the narrative arc must bend toward conquering seemingly insurmountable odds, include a redemptive moment and close with a Disneyesque denouement.

Some audiences may balk at neo-realism as a genre, and that reaction may beg the question: how closely should film mirror life. In the case of "Wendy and Lucy," it's as if a camera crew arrived in town at the same time as Wendy and Lucy and recorded their experiences and mishaps. Granted, there is no significant character development, no opportunity to understand fully why Wendy has left her family (a sister and brother-in-law), and decided to drive to Alaska with little money, hoping to find work in a cannery. We are witness to a brief though important moment in this young woman's life and little else.

And yet, there is something about this film that is, if not compelling, at least intriguing.

The meta-question for audiences will always be: how much realism do they expect or want from films. For some, entertainment is the touchstone. For others, their wish is that art closely imitate life in all of its nuanced complexity and even, some might judge, its tediousness. "Wendy and Lucy" is a fine example of the latter.

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