Monday, August 10, 2009

Wendy and Lucy: A Movie Review

Wendy and Lucy is an independent movie, without a music score, filled with wind and wandering and a woman just barely hanging on to hope. It is about a woman who is homeless, hopefully temporarily, looking to go from Indiana to Alaska for work, only to get stuck in Portland when her car doesn’t start, and then her troubles begin.

Where has this movie been all my life? Although this is fictional, I swear I know this woman and her situation with her dog, Lucy, has been repeated many times with people I know.

Below is a full synopsis of the movie. If you are planning on seeing it (and haven't yet), please skip the next two paragraphs:

Wendy enters “Willamette” (really Portland) at night and gets information from some young hobos which confirms her thoughts about going to Alaska for work. She spends the night in a Walgreen’s parking lot, and the security guard tells her she can’t sleep there in the morning. At that time, she finds that her car won’t start, and the garage down the street isn’t open. She counts her money to find that she has barely enough to fix the car, but none for food. She goes into a local store and tries to shoplift some dog food for Lucy, her companion, only to be caught. She is arrested, and Lucy is left tied up in front of the store. Wendy spends half the day at the police station, and when she returns Lucy is gone. She is frantic and begins to call for Lucy around the neighborhood. The security guard tells her about the pound a fair walk away. The next morning Wendy goes to the pound, but no Lucy—they tell her to keep calling. Wendy is told then that the repair of the car would be at least 250 dollars, including towing the car for 50 dollars down a couple blocks.

After using the security guard’s cell phone to call the pound, Wendy spends the night in a nearby woods. In the middle of the night, an older crazy man goes through her pack and begins talking to her. He goes away, but her fear of being attacked causes her to run off and stay awake the rest of the night. The next morning, in front of Walgreen’s the security guard tells her that the pound called. She checks, and the pound says that someone called with a description of a dog that matches hers. They give her the address. The security guard insists upon giving her money and puts it in her hand—it is seven dollars. She stops by the garage and they tell her that her engine is shot, it would cost $2000 dollars to repair. Then she goes to see Lucy, who is overjoyed to see her. Wendy plays catch with her for a bit and she says, “This is a nice yard. I’m sorry, Lucy, but I can’t fix the car!” Wendy leaves Lucy and hops a train to Alaska.

This is a very personal movie. Not only was much of this movie filmed in places where I have lived, but it is a story that I have experienced through others many times. My family and I have been homeless, “couchsurfing”, in the past, but we have been serving and helping the homeless in Portland for 15 years. I have met many people just like Wendy, in even worse situations—no car, no money, looking for work, but stuck in a strange town that has no work for them.

And I know of many people on the street who are deeply attached to their dogs, only to lose them. People on the street, for the most part, are lonely people, bereft of deep relationship. Family has rejected them, like Wendy’s, if only because the family thinks they are asking for something more than they can give. A dog can provide an excellent companion. They are with you, and can literally be your best friend, keeping you company during the day and warm at night. But others, like the grocery clerk in the movie, think that people on the street aren’t deserving of such companionship: “If you can’t feed a dog, you don’t deserve to keep a dog.” And so, if one is struggling, they feel they have the right to take an animal away. I know of three people on the street who have had their dogs stolen from them while they were going to the bathroom, or eating in a soup kitchen. I have had our dog stolen from us, when he jumped our fence and we went after her only a few minutes later. No one seems to understand the depression and grieving that follows such a loss. Perhaps they understand, but they don’t really care. Rather than helping, they would rather pour on sorrow on top of sorrow.

But what is most poignant in the movie is the second-class citizenship of homelessness. The “crazy man” hit the theme of the movie perfectly, as well as the theme of homeless life: “They are after us. They can smell the weakness.”

People sense the weakness of being homeless, the vulnerable position—and while some have compassion, most just have contempt. Wendy kept running into people who demanded money from her, and even the breaks she got were too small to help. The store required her to lose money and her dog, for the sake of a couple dollars of food she was taking. The sheriff’s department told her that if she didn’t pay the 50 dollars she would just have to pay more later, and if she ran away, they would transport her back to face the consequences (although this is what a sheriff’s department might say, it isn’t actually true. She’d only have to pay court fees if she were declared guilty, and a state wouldn’t request transport for a 50 dollar fine). The garage was willing to give her a break, given that she’s strapped-- $230 instead of $250.

Everywhere Wendy turned, there was no one who would really help. Even the security guard only gave Wendy the use of his cell phone and a few bucks—that’s as far as his compassion could reach. Not far enough to save the only friend who truly loved to see her, who truly loved her completely for who she was.

Don’t let anyone fool you. The sorrow of homelessness is not being without a home. It is being without a friend. And sad is the one whose friend is stolen from her by desperate poverty.

Just looking at this film objectively, I should give it four out of five stars. But this is MY movie. It is about my city, my people, my life. It is certainly reflects my experience. I don’t care, objectively, how great this movie is. It is most important to me. 5 out of 5 stars.

No comments: