Primer: Kelly Reichardt
A modern master of plain-Jane naturalism gets a look this weekend at UWM Union Theatre
At the beginning of Kelly Reichardt's deeply affecting Wendy And Lucy—which plays this weekend at UWM Union Theatre—a young woman, en route to Alaska in hopes of getting a job, stalls out in small-town Oregon. Soon enough, it becomes clear that she's little more than a busted timing belt away from utter ruin. Without putting too fine a point on it, Reichardt subtly underscores the predicament of a person living without any margin for error, which in these desperate economic times has become tragically epidemic.
Along with 2006’s lyrical Old Joy, which also screens this weekend at Union Theatre, Wendy And Lucy has established Reichardt as one of the finest young filmmakers working today. Specializing in plain-Jane naturalism, Reichardt has an excellent sense of proportion: She doesn't try to do too much, but what she does do is fully realized.
In Old Joy, through the simplest of setups, Reichardt reveals two men who have reached a crisis point in their individual lives and their friendship. Married with a baby on the way, Daniel London seems eager to get away from this ticking time bomb, if only for a couple of days. When his old friend Will Oldham suggests a camping trip up in Oregon's Cascade Mountains, London jumps at the opportunity, even though things have grown a little awkward between them. However reluctantly London embraces the prospect of fatherhood, his tentative advancement into adult responsibility has left his wayward friend Oldham in the dust. For his part, Oldham seems stuck in post-graduate townie phase, still advancing fanciful dreams in lieu of a real plan and retreating into a stoned haze at every opportunity. The bald fact that these friends have grown apart asserts itself in a couple of painful exchanges, but never to the point of melodramatic eruption. More often, their estrangement doesn't need to be vocalized, because Reichardt suggests it so beautifully in the pained rhythms of their conversation and a slightly mournful tone. At the same time, this weekend in the woods represents a genuine escape for the characters, and Old Joy perks up with several lyrical sequences in the natural world, highlighted by a visit to hot springs that serves as the film's moving centerpiece.