Wendy and Lucy

Wendy and Lucy ★★★★

One of the most compassionate films you'll ever see about how being poor sets up a potential avalanche of financial consequences for attempting to do something to better your situation through moving. There is a cost attached to every moment. For that to register, though, the entire film rests on Michelle Williams performance and she succeeds.

I want to share a story because it overlaps so much with this film, down to the very year and route. In 2008 I was moving from Tennessee to Olympia, Washington for a low-paying job that I mentioned in my Her Smell review. I hoped that job could kickstart my job prospects, of which there were none in Tennessee though I loved the region and so many people I met there. I had a route on my map and an arrival date of Memorial Day in Washington state. The first stop was Chicago to see a friend I mentioned in my Shithouse review, this was where I left my cat, Dermot, in her care, where he's been ever since; though a different Chicago household a few years later. Dermot was a cat I'd gotten with my perpetually hot-and-heavy on-and-off girlfriend of three years, whom I'd mentioned in my Score review. The next stop was Omaha, Nebraska with a Louise Brooks-lookalike I'd found on Couchsurfing (remember this? eek, how open and inviting we were before Air BnB). I had a fantastic time with my host and extended my stay there a few days which would play out over many years, as well, as she would later become another hot-and-heavy on-and-off relationship a few years later, and mentioned in my TRON: Legacy review. Because Omaha was a longer stop on my route than I intended that meant I had a lot of ground that I needed to cover and it was straight on to Salt Lake City, a 16-hour drive with no stops. There were stops, however, as soon as I hit Wyoming and was overcome with a feeling of arriving home in the West, the robust blue sky filled with puffy clouds and their shadows on the brown patches of barren Earth below. I'd discounted how much my aesthetics were informed by my Western roots and here they were, welcoming me back to the West after a long absence, the place I fled.

That welcoming feeling switched off during nightfall when my timing belt gave in, split into multiple frayed ribbons and the engine stopped. I was lucky in so many ways for where this happened. First, that I was on a hilly decline instead of incline, which allowed me to glide into a stopped position instead of rolling backward into semi-trucks. That I was able to stop where I had cell phone service, an extreme rarity in 2008 Wyoming. And that I was close to an exit, of which there are only a handful on this route. Like Wendy in this film, I had been warned of the timing belt a few states back but I had pushed on because like Wendy, I had a job in the Northwest. Like Wendy, too, I called a family member and their immediate response was "I can't help you" to which I responded the same, "I'm not calling to ask for help, I'm calling because this is something that happened to me and I'm all alone and afraid." I was not raised by a family who possessed empathy just problem solving skills. It's true, I was not calling to be saved. I knew how much money I had, I knew where I was staying when I hit Olympia, and I knew that I did not have the money to fix my car but only enough money to get to my destination without it and that when I got there I'd have quite literally nothing. But at least I could work.

I was much luckier than Wendy for the next few occurrences, however, there is a shared compassion of working class strangers that I received instead of from my family. I called my best friend from high school who I was going to stay with in Salt Lake City and whom I hadn't seen in eight years because our lives had completely diverted because he was Mormon and I was not. I lived with him when I was 17, having moved out of my parents house to finish high school while they moved up north. Part of the reason I fled Idaho is because everyone I grew up with was Mormon which is a whole different life plan at that age. I had no mission to go on, no desire to start a family by 21, but that was everyone I knew at the time. But he had gone on a mission to Indianapolis, Indiana. Unlike my other Mormon friends who were sent to Brazil and Italy, he had to wait a year to go on his mission and he was sent to a far less exotic place because he confessed to receiving oral sex from his girlfriend at 17. We were both the black sheep in our family, but now he had a family of his own. And I am incredibly thankful that he received that blowjob (from a girlfriend whom I quite liked personally and hope she's doing very well) that cast him out to Indiana because when I told him I was stopped outside Green River, Wyoming he actually had a plan. See he knew someone in Green River, Wyoming from his Indianapolis mission. It turned out they ran the only hotel in town right next to a towing company. The tow truck came out for free, the restaurant at the hotel prepared me a meal for free as they were going to close soon and the hotel gave me a free room for the night. This understanding hospitality continued into the next day where the tow-truck driver understood my situation and said he'd stick with me for the day as I tried to figure out what to do and he was unlikely to even get another call. My car didn't even come off the truck as I told the mechanic it had to be the timing belt and I knew with labor that's going to cost an amount that I don't have. They confirmed it on the truck bed but I still didn't know what to do. The tow-truck driver said he wanted to go bowling and asked if I did, too, to clear my head. He then said he'd buy the car from me for parts but we'd be bowling for the price. If I beat him bowling he'd give me $800 but if I lost I'd just get $500. I accepted. Our match was tight, neck and neck, but he won in the last frame and did a dance. It was the biggest smile I think I'd ever seen in my life and it was because he won but also never intended to pay less than $800 to me. He gave me the $800 for the title and said he just wanted to have a bowling match against someone who needed to win badly and see if he still could. We went to the only car rental place nearby, 40 miles from there, and I was off, owning absolutely nothing but emboldened by the kindness of strangers (including my couchsurfing future ex who still is dear to me).

When I first saw Wendy and Lucy I hadn't been able to live with this memory very long at all. It was so fresh and I was just thankful to have what I had in Washington by that time. I was incredibly lucky to even be there, even though I continued to just barely scrape by but in a town that I didn't need a car. I could walk everywhere. I'd need to buy one a few years later to move down to Los Angeles and I slept in it for two months in order to earn the money to move, and that car died, too, and set me back to a complete lost year of just trying to scrape enough together to get another vehicle so I could re-enter the workforce that required it here. My career took of in 2015 after many fits and starts and scraping together every penny I could, every ounce of empathy from fellow human beings, and rewatching Wendy and Lucy now is humbling to remember all of that. In many periods of my life, I only now exist because of kindness given and kindness received. And I outline a few instances here where I got a little personal on Letterboxd, though the one's I've gotten the most personal on, highlighting my history of being abused, or my struggles with drinking or past suicidal tendencies or my marriage are drifting out there on their own to be found like pieces of driftwood from a shipwreck that I landed ashore from. I am glad that I was not lost at sea (or Wyoming) but in America, as documented by Kelly Reichardt, so many of us are close to being cast out to sea again.

I'd like to just say, as I hover around 2,000 followers, thanks so much for following me here and saying nice words to me here and there and thanks for letting me work through some of my own demons via watching films. I know most are here because I do have access to films early through my (hard) work but still, the kindness of strangers here, when I do get personal, means a lot to me. Truly. It truly does. Watching films is an escape but grappling with some of the memories they bring up here is not. So thanks for reading.

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