Wendy and Lucy (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
I have to give Michelle Williams kudos for starring in this really small, bare bones of a film. Her performance is so visceral and she fully embodies the ever-growing desperation that her character is going through. “Wendy and Lucy,” directed by Kelly Reichardt, tells the story of Wendy and her dog Lucy as the two try to go to Alaska so that Wendy can earn her money at a fish cannery. Things do not go quite as they had planned because Wendy’s car breaks down in Oregon, gets arrested for shoplifting dog food (she only had about $525 which was barely enough), and Lucy is nowhere to be seen when Wendy finally gets out of jail (Wendy left her dog tied to a rail in front of the store where she shoplifted). When Williams started looking for that dog, I felt like I was watching a mother trying to look for her child. It was really sad because things get from bad to worse in a matter of minutes and the hope of Wendy finding the dog grows dimmer and dimmer. Even though I really identified with Wendy’s situation, at some point I thought about just leaving the dog and going on ahead to Alaska. As cruel as that sounds, I think it’s justified because Wendy keeps spending money as she tries to keep looking for the dog. I get that Lucy is her only companion but, at least for me, the practical thing to do is to stop looking for the dog. Williams has come a long way since I’ve seen her first in “Dawson’s Creek” because she really uses her acting chops to carry this picture from beginning to end. I also have to give Reichardt credit for showing us a side of America where it’s not so glamorous. In fact, the places featured in this movie are downright depressing. Although the movie is about Wendy and Lucy’s friendship, sometimes I tried to pay attention to people on the background; some of them look like they’re sleepwalking through life. I find that particularly accurate because, though I didn’t grow up in a small town like the one in this movie, the area I grew up in was small enough to notice those kinds of people. Casual moviegoers may not like this film right off the bat or superficially consider it as “sad.” But film lovers should be able to look at it more closely and analytically and realize that it comes close to becoming something really special.
★★★ / ★★★★
I really enjoyed watching this indie drama about an Orthodox Jew (Zoe Lister Jones) and a Muslim originally from Pakistan (Francis Benhamou) who build a friendship out of commonalities despite their religious backgrounds. Even though the crux of this film is about arranged marriages and arguments whether it works or not, it’s not afraid to tackle some issues between Jewish and Muslim people. Diane Crespo and Stefan C. Schaefer, the directors, were efficient with each scene by astutely using contrasting scenes and ideas: man vs. woman, work place vs. home, self vs. family, traditionality vs. modernity… Yet at the same time, Crespo and Schaefer sometimes fused two opposing ideas in order to draw insightful but valid conclusions. I also liked the fact that even though the setting was in Brooklyn, New York, and there’s a lot of diversity on both the background and the foreground, there are still characters so soaked in bigotry but they don’t even know it. What’s more interesting is that though they feel like they’re helping the situation, as a third party, one could feel like they’re making the situation worse as each word is expressed. The writing must also be admired because I felt like the conversations are the kind that I would overhear from friends, random strangers, or even family members (racism, narrow-mindedness at the dinner table and all). Although, personally, I wouldn’t want to be placed in an arranged marriage, as a person of color, I’m open-minded when it comes to cultures who do follow certain traditions. What this movie could’ve improved on was the last three scenes. I thought everything was presented so quickly to the point where it diminished the momentum it had. Still, this is a strong movie for fans of indie dramas and for people who want to learn more about other cultures.
Race You to the Bottom
★★ / ★★★★
This indie drama reminded me of a weaker version of “2 Days in Paris” because right from the get-go, I had this feeling that something was going to go wrong. It’s about the breakdown of a bisexual man (Cole Williams) and a heterosexual woman’s (Amber Benson) romantic relationship as they travel through California’s wine country. Both of them have boyfriends who they willingly cheat on and that alone did not make me want to embrace these characters. Still, I wanted to give the film a chance and I’m glad I did because there were moments when I actually thought that the interactions between Williams and Benson were genuine. The fluidy of sexuality is definitely at the forefront and it was tackled in a legitimate manner. But I thought some of the gay stereotypes are jarring: Williams is a self-loathing pseudointellectual who likes to sleep around and seduce other men. I did not like his character at all because all ever thinks about is himself; he doesn’t have a filter especially when certain conversations move toward a more sensitive territory. However, I did like Benson (as usual) because even though she’s sarcastic and (at times) drowning in her own delusion, she’s sensitive and not afraid to be vulnerable. This is one of those pictures that could’ve benefited from a longer running time. In this case, seventy-five minutes is not enough to paint complex characters that the audiences can ultimately invest in. I would also like to note that it was nice to see Justin Hartley and Philipp Karner here as Williams’ target of seduction. For the longest time, I kept being distracted from the story because I knew I’ve seen them in other films before but I didn’t know exactly where from. There were some nice ideas here that could’ve used some more development in both writing and execution. Otherwise, it’s not too shabby.