The children of the homeless, the dogs of beggars — unless it’s Christmastime, concern for these two unfortunate groups is about as far as our sympathies will stretch for strangers. Unlike those detestable jobless adults, the common knowledge goes, kids and pets have no choice in their poverty; they’re simply victims of their parents’ or owners’ bad choices, lack of ambition, and general laziness.
In Wendy and Lucy — the story of an unemployed woman and the dog she can’t afford to buy food for — however, director Kelly Reichert and writer Jonathan Raymond (adapting from his own short story) make a persuasive case that the idea of free will is laughable to anyone living in her car. Below the poverty line, the film argues, there’s nothing to make but poor choices.
Wendy (Williams) — a young, homeless woman, traveling with her dog, Lucy, by Honda to Alaska, where she thinks she’s got a job lined up at a fishery — is a study in conservative-preached self reliance, making her own way in the land of opportunity without government hand-outs or affirmative action, budgeting her money to the cent, scraping by, making do, et al. Or she would be if all her bootstrap pulling did anything but rip her pants. We never see what unwise decisions or undesirable circumstances led to Wendy’s current poverty, or how she came to own a dog she doesn’t have the money to properly care for, but by the time her car sputters out in Oregon in the first act, she’s already out of options. She’s got no job, no money for food, no address even, and those she needs help from are either unsympathetic or unable to offer real assistance. Williams, shining among what seems to be first-time actors (with the exception of a perfectly cast Oldham cameo) plays Wendy as a sticktoitive optimist worthy of her own Horatio Alger ending, but the oppression of the film’s version of blue-collar poverty seems too complete to overcome, and a can-do spirit can’t keep a Labrador fed.