Wendy and Lucy - Michelle Williams plays a young woman hoping for a better future with her dog

With all the fanfare surrounding the release of Watchmen last week, the low-budget American indie film Wendy and Lucy ended up somewhat overlooked, not least by us here at Movie Talk. Which is a great shame as this unassuming movie has more humanity and insight in any one of its 80 minutes than you’ll find in certain other movies running twice as long.

Co-written and directed by Kelly Reichardt, who made festival favourite Old Joy a couple of years ago, the movie stars Michelle Williams as the eponymous Wendy, a near penniless young woman who is scuffling and scrabbling along, trying to survive somewhere near the bottom of society’s heap with only her beloved dog Lucy for company.

Now most movies revolving around the relationship between human and canine are usually as eager to please as a tail-wagging dog hoping for a chocolate drop (Get down! please, Marley and Me). But Wendy and Me isn’t the least bit mawkish. Filmed in a pared-down, semi-documentary fashion, it’s as stripped of sentiment as Williams’ appearance is stripped of any vestiges of Hollywood glamour.

Williams’ physically slight, achingly vulnerable Wendy is trying to make her way from the American Midwest to Alaska, where she hopes to find work in a fish cannery, but when her battered car breaks down in a backwater town in Oregon her prospects and dreams unravel.

Wendy doesn’t always make the smartest decisions (the whole Alaska project seems half-baked for a start), but you empathise with her all the more strongly with every misstep. Watching Wendy lose her precarious grip on everything she holds dear is quietly heartbreaking – and a bracing reminder in these straitened times of how easy it is for someone like her to be tipped over the edge when there isn’t a safety net around. (General release from 6th March)