By Andrew Malekoff
Some of my fondest memories are of time spent in movie theaters. As a child, double-features with friends was a Saturday afternoon staple. In my teenage years, there was nothing like going to an evening premiere of a much-anticipated film. When I became a father, I took my kids to the movies most Saturday mornings, usually followed by a fast food lunch.
There was a time when if you mentioned the name of a movie I could tell you when I saw it, in which theater, with whom, and what the experience was like for me – how it made me feel. That was before VHS, DVD, Blockbuster and streaming services like Netflix, when going to the movies always felt like a special event.
Now everything I watch just seems to blend together.
As I got older I’m not sure what drew me to independent film. Maybe it was intellectual curiosity or a changing taste in the arts. Or, I was just getting tired of special-effect-action films.
One unforgettable film that I did see on a streaming service was Wendy and Lucy. In this somewhat obscure 2008 film, we meet a young woman who is hanging by a thread.
Wendy is doing her best, with little support, to survive day to day and maintain her dignity. Along the way she loses her dog Lucy, the only stable and loving relationship in her life. Ultimately, she is faced with making a heartbreaking decision that their mutual welfare depends upon.
As Wendy’s car, which also serves as her bed, breaks down and her resources dwindle, she collects bottles and cans and shoplifts dog food.
She encounters a group of homeless people making a fire, a self-righteous store clerk, a smug auto mechanic, a sympathetic security guard, and a psychotic drifter, among others. We see each of them from the unique perspective of a young woman alone and on the verge of economic collapse and homeless destitution.
Wendy offers a lens through which we can see such a transformation evolve. Many homeless people were something and somewhere else first. Wendy is such a person.
Although this low-budget, spare film is a dramatic and moving work of fiction, it reminds me that we cannot afford to overlook the impact – the anxieties and fears – that an uncertain economy has on some of today’s teenagers. Parents need to be open and direct with their children.
According to Allen Cardoza, founder of West Shield Adolescent Services in Newport Beach, Calif., there are four significant ways parents can help teens survive and thrive during an economic downturn:
1. Speak immediately and honestly about the family financial and employment situation. Provide reassurance that the economic situation is not their fault. You cannot predict when it will end, only that as a family you will get through it.
2. Be firm about spending changes that will need to be made. Allow reductions across the board. Prioritize what is needed most by whom.
3. Assist your teenager with income-producing ideas such as a dog walking service, grocery delivery, mowing lawns, snow shoveling, etc. Allow your teenagers to contribute a percentage to the household budget and keep a portion for their own “extras.”
4. Budget a fun family activity at regular intervals to keep everyone connected and motivated.
Wendy and Lucy is a film that provides a window into an extreme situation in which a young woman barely out of her teens demonstrates resilience in her quest to overcome the significant hazards she faces. Teenagers today, despite what might be projected as apathy, have strong feelings about what is happening in our world and in their family. We need to keep them informed without imposing guilt or blame.
Wendy and Lucy plead with us to do what we must all do with children and teens we care about during difficult times – not to close our eyes or turn our backs on them.