On paper “Wendy and Lucy” should have been a film I gushed over, one I wanted to watch again the minute it ended. A story about a plucky young woman who moves cross-country with her dog , helmed by a woman director has feminist-bait smeared all over it. Only I hated the film for multiple reasons. One could almost imagine the depression-era clichés screenwriter Jonathan Raymond thumbed over when he sat down to create this project. The one thing missing were the freight train hopping hoboes carrying kerchief adorned sticks and roasting no-name brand beans on the fire. “Wendy and Lucy” rates as 80 minutes of hand wringing over the pathologically bad choices of a poor young woman. And it doesn’t even make sense. As a formerly destitute young woman, I had many dreams about social mobility and routes out of poverty. Yet none of them figured a more than 5,000 km drive in a beaten up car with my pooch and a mere 500 bucks. The supposed goldmine at the end of this arduous trek is a line job at a fish cannery. A girl with big dreams naturally hones in on the path to elbows deep in fish guts, toiling on her feet in a factory. Did the plotline about the bid for Hollywood fame seem too obvious or what? Am I really supposed to believe that a skinny, pretty white girl harbours the secret quest for drudgery in a factory, for what, maybe 10 bucks an hour?
I cry foul at a character study so lacking in verisimilitude and integrity. Michelle Williams as Wendy would have had a greater chance of making bank behind the bar, waiting tables or dancing at a strip club. There’s also this whole unbelievable unstated assumption regarding any woman’s ability to just pick up and take off without batting an eyelash, which just has no bearing in the way women are enculturated. Women are shouted down from walking the streets after dark without a warrior mindset in place, so the idea that some skinny young one would say “ to heck with it, I’m invulnerable, can do what I like” will cue the eyeroll for the feminist viewer. Since Wendy’s car breaks down in Oregon, why didn’t she just decide to settle there in the hipster and hippie paradise? There’s no reason to travel all the way to Alaska if you’re looking to drop off the grid.
Just as unbelievable is that Wendy would be so harshly busted for stealing some dog food. The film wants to make a point about the uncharitable nature of Christians when the shop clerk with the cross around his neck catches her in the act, but that plays out as hollow and cheap as those caricatures about atheists as morally unbound.
Wendy remains tabula rasa throughout the film, more cardboard cutout than real character. What she does other than make foolish decisions and play with her dog eludes the narrative. We have no understanding of her motivations or why she’s alone. The film tries to make a statement about poverty in the U.S. when all it can manage is to show us why women are better off safe in the confines of a man’s protection. On their own, women are so clueless they can’t even shoplift a can of dog food.