Wanda

Released:  1970

Cast:  Barbara Loden, Michael Higgins

SUMMARY:  In eastern Pennsylvania, in a coal mining town, Wanda Goronski (Barbara Loden) wakes up on her sister’s couch, having left her husband.  Wanda is due in divorce court that morning, but fails to arrive on time.  The court, as well as her husband and children, are forced to wait on her.  When she finally does arrive, Wanda offers no objection to the divorce, and willingly cedes full custody of the children to her husband.  Wanda then attempts to get a full-time job in a factory where she had previously done some temporary work, but is rejected.  She goes to a bar, where she meets a man who buys her a drink.  Wanda ends up having a one-night stand with the man; in the morning, he tries to sneak out while she is still sleeping, but she manages to wake up on time to get in the car with him.  However, the first time they stop at a convenience store, the man drives off as soon as Wanda gets out of the car.  Not having much money left, Wanda decides to kill time in a movie theater.  She falls asleep, and has to be woken up by the usher after the movie ends.  At this point, she discovers that someone has taken all of the money out of her wallet.  Wanda wanders around until she finds a bar, where she goes in to use the restroom.  The bartender is very anxious to close the bar, but Wanda insists that she will be quick.  It turns out that the bartender is really a robber; Wanda entered the bar just as the man was ready to escape.  When Wanda comes out of the bathroom, the bank robber decides to use her as a shield when he escapes; they walk out as a couple.

Although the robber, Norman Dennis (Michael Higgins), clearly does not want to have Wanda around, she remains with him since she has nowhere else to go.  As yet, Wanda is still unaware that Dennis is a robber.  They hole up in a motel room for several days before leaving; Wanda does whatever Dennis tells her, and he seems to gradually warm to her.  When they leave town, Wanda discovers that she is also wanted in connection with the bar robbery; at this point, she figures out what Dennis does, but still decides to stay with him.  As they spend more time together, Dennis becomes more concerned with how Wanda looks and acts (becoming rather abusive in the process), and even decides to use her in his next robbery.  Wanda is to act as the lookout while Dennis robs a bank, but she gets held up by traffic and arrives late.  The bank manager alerts the police, who shoot and kill Dennis.  Wanda sees what has happened, but is able to get away without any trouble.  Again, she wanders around until she manages to hitch a ride with a soldier.  When the soldier drives onto a deserted road and tries to sexually assault Wanda, she fights back and escapes into the woods.  When she makes it back to town, she is found by a local woman, who takes her into a bar where a group is having a party; Wanda sits with them and quietly drinks and smokes.

MY TAKE:  This movie has received a lot of critical respect, and in some ways I agree with this.  Barbara Loden was responsible for just about every aspect of the film:  she wrote it, directed it, and starred in it.  The only other real actor in the film was Michael Higgins; the others were non-actor locals.  This is a big achievement for anybody, but especially for a woman in 1970.  However, from an entertainment standpoint, this movie was terrible.  Wanda has all the conviction and gumption of a wet noodle.  She shows no interest in absolutely anything, including her own children (one of whom is still a baby).  She doesn’t care much about herself, either:  she just wanders around, accepting the kindness of whatever strangers she runs across.  I thought that when she discovered she was running with a bank robber, she’d show some moxie, but no.  Then, when the bank robbery is planned, and she doesn’t want to help, I thought she would finally develop some convictions.  Again, no.  Finally, when Dennis is shot and killed, I thought surely she’d show some emotion:  she’d spent most of the movie with the man, and at the end he seemed to at least care about her well-being.  I shouldn’t have been surprised that she has almost no reaction when she sees Dennis’ dead body.  She then just continues to wander around, giving the impression that her previous experience has had no effect on her.  Like I said, she’s a wet noodle.  To top it off, the plot is not very exciting, and the camera work leaves something to be desired (the film was extremely low-budget).  It’s definitely not a woman-empowerment movie.

RATING:  Depressing and frustrating.

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