For the working poor, safety nets are not part of the equation — the dominoes start falling hard if just one unexpected expense pops up. Kelly Reichardt’s simple and affecting drama “Wendy and Lucy,” which begins a two-week engagement at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, illustrates this true, day-to-day nightmare, and Michelle Williams makes it seem far more real than most people would care to experience up close.
Wendy Carroll (Williams) does not have many options. While driving with her dog Lucy from Indiana to Alaska, where she plans to find work at a fish cannery, Wendy doesn’t stop at hotels: she finds quiet parking lots and sleeps behind the wheel, hoping no one will tell her to move along. No such luck in Oregon — awakened by a security guard, Wendy soon discovers that her ancient Honda Accord will not start and it will cost money she doesn’t have to get it towed and fixed.
A desperate act in a grocery store (and a run-in with a self-righteous employee) results in Wendy’s arrest, a fine and Lucy’s disappearance. Now facing destitution without her best friend, Wendy spirals into depression as her expenses multiply and her options are subtracted. No one, including family back home, has much means or inclination to help Wendy, and the transition from nomadic worker to homelessness becomes a short fall. Even finding a lost dog costs money.
Wendy is a character with no remarkable characteristics other than being average. She hasn’t fallen on hard times — for Wendy, all times are hard and getting harder. And there might be a way forward, but it will not be a smooth road and any momentum will come with great sacrifice.
Not everything is spelled out, but Williams fills her character with the kind of quiet desperation that tells a life story, one in which all the good breaks went to people with more money, talent, brains, ingenuity, connections or physical beauty. “Wendy and Lucy” does not present us with a pitiful character, but with the worst-case scenario — one that more and more people are facing today.