But where the filmmaker's 2006 pic about two old pals taking a hike in the woods (same backdrop, the Pacific Northwest) examined the bonds of friendship through a stoner haze, Wendy and Lucy describes the desperate solitude of a woman whose emotions are clamped down tight, and whose one real "friend" is her rangy mutt. Disconnected from her family, Wendy has a plan of sorts - to find work in a fishing cannery in Alaska - but doesn't have much purpose beyond that. Her sights are aimed low, and squarely ahead.
Grainy and quiet, Wendy and Lucy is the real-world Marley & Me - a world that has nothing to do with Hollywood or showcase houses or trained canines that deliver cute on command.
And nothing to do with celebrities, either. There isn't a moment in Marley & Me where you can forget that its stars are perennial US Weekly angsters Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. There isn't a moment in Wendy and Lucy when it even occurs to think of Williams as the sad-eyed mom of the late Heath Ledger's child. The actress completely loses herself in the role, and does so in ways that are delicate and indrawn.
There's a pivotal scene with Williams' character curled up in a sleeping bag, in the woods of a park, when a menacing figure approaches. Reichardt closes in on Williams' face, and its look of fear and defenselessness and aching aloneness is staggering. There's not a word uttered, and yet the actress, nearly as still as a statue, practically wails.
Wendy and Lucy was written by Reichardt with Jon Raymond, adapting his story "Train Choir," and the film has the telling details, the seemingly ordinary exchanges, of a great short story.
While this is Williams' movie through and through - and one of the strongest performances from an actress in any of the 2008 releases, Oscar nomination or not - Walter Dalton is terrific as a craggy security guard who offers Wendy a bit of help and the use of his cell phone. Will Patton shows up as a garage mechanic, John Robinson is a hard-nosed young grocery-store clerk and even Will Oldham, the singer and Old Joy costar, pokes his mug into the frame.
Wendy and Lucy is modest, minimalist. But it nonetheless reverberates like a sonic boom.