Wendy and Lucy is a "small" movie. It's small in size (80 minutes with credits) and it's small on story - there's just Wendy (a girl), Lucy (her dog), and a handful of other nameless characters who occasionally appear. Wendy is "passing through" rural Oregon and headed to Alaska, and the movie documents a rough couple of days along the way. But there is no backstory or explanation for the journey, the story is too "small" for that.
What we get instead is an apathetic heroine who doesn't seem desperate so much as indifferent. When a security guard pontificates that in society, "everything's fixed" against people, Wendy replies, "that's why I'm going to Alaska," and that is as close as we get to her intentions. She phones her sister's husband, tells him simply, "I'm in Oregon," (her roots are in Indiana), which he casually accepts. Her sister comes onto the phone, says shrilly, "We can't give you anything, we're strapped," when Wendy adds that her car has broken down, the sister replies skeptically, "What can we do?" This sounds more dramatic than it is, from the way they are speaking, they might as well be discussing the weather. A moment later, Wendy's sister has already become disinterested and gotten off the phone, and Wendy tells the husband, "It sounds like you're busy, I'll talk to you later," which he accepts and they hang up.
Movies "small" in budget tend to be big on "reality," using their relatively low-tech circumstances to their advantage when creating gritty, "natural" films. But "Wendy and Lucy" feels comatose, somehow less dramatic than real life. It isn't helped by the amateur actors playing some of the supporting roles, all of whom deliver their lines with blase non-energy.
Finally, close to the end of the movie, there is a scary moment that causes Wendy to have a meltdown. The moment is shocking because we are jolted into feeling emotion again...and maybe that has been the movie's intention all along. For the first time, Wendy seems to grasp the reality of her situation, which "brings her back to earth." But, it is too late for the audience to be invested in her hardships. The movie feels like watching the aftermath of a car crash from your bedroom window...you recognize the drama, but are personally removed from the outcome.All of which leads to one conclusion. It's a struggle for me to say it because of how cliche it sounds, and because it alludes to the misconception that all movies have to make you "feel" all kinds of things...the more the better. But in this case, the conclusion holds true: Wendy and Lucy is small on heart.