Wendy and Lucy ★★★½

[69]

Initially appears as a hollow pity party for Wendy, the inevitably destructive System slowly pinning her into submission. The poor stay poor, as they say; it’s almost as though the Universe itself lends a hand in the unrelenting force against her. Though many smart people have deemed this a hopeless meat grinder, Reichardt never asks or even expects us to sympathize with Wendy. If anything, she posits the opposite, insinuating several times that Wendy’s bad luck is not luck at all, but a consequence of her own poor decisions. Johnny brown-nose might be taking his Stock Boy job too seriously but his chest-puffed lamentation that if you can't afford a dog, you shouldn't have one isn't necessarily untrue. Why should an innocent animal's well-being be jeopardized by a human who doesn't know when to tap out? Ultimately, Wendy's tragedy w.r.t. Lucy is entirely her own undoing—we know not where she came from, what she did to isolate herself, or why she hasn't a home—because while an Alaskan road trip under a $600 budget will require penny-pinching, do the implications of getting caught stealing outweigh the cost of dog food? (We quickly see the answer is “no.”)

Wendy makes a slew of questionable choices that prod us to reconsider our cumulative empathy. She was clearly unprepared for a trip of this magnitude and, as a previous mechanic told her, she knew her car was in no condition to drive such a distance safely. A (somewhat clumsy) phone call reveals that she only contacts family when in dire straits; she shoplifts an item she can afford then lies about it before backtracking and reverting to apologetic pandering; struck by either impatience or sheer laziness, she forfeits a bag of returnable bottles instead of waiting in line. Is Wendy deserving of anyone’s commiseration? One can argue that she'd nevertheless be fucked because of the financial bottleneck of her vehicle, but even in that scenario, she keeps Lucy. (Though the more I think about it, the more I realize the selfishness of that outcome.) Wendy’s wisest—and most affecting—decision is bequeathing Lucy to an owner who can provide what she cannot. It's the first and only selfless act she makes and, if nothing else, showcases how two days in shit’s creek has mentally matured her, if only a small bit.

Slightly rough around the edges and anchored by a few painfully stagey moments, but well composed overall, appropriately devastating and unexpectedly clever with its moral tug-of-war. There is, however, a single element that stopped me from scoring this at least five points higher: When Wendy is being carted away by the cops, she waits until they're pulling away to notify them of Lucy’s presence outside the store. It is unlikely not only that police officers would hang a dog out to dry but that someone as infatuated with his or her pooch as Wendy would wait until that exact moment before saying something. Seems a minor misstep, but it’s severely detrimental to the realism that’s being parlayed elsewhere.

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