Lynn + Lucy (Review)

To a great extent, Lynn + Lucy is defined by what what you do not see, focusing instead on aftermath and assumption. Some of this is shown in small ways: focusing on a central character while you hear an argument from offscreen or showing insulting graffiti on somebody’s house, as they enter it, without showing its cause or, really, its effect. Some is shown in very overt ways: like the central conflict in which a horrendous event happens – off screen – and the rest of the film revolves around allegations the and collateral damage that comes from it. This overall approach is all part of the film’s focus on ambiguity, and how that is weaponised and abused – or how it comes to define us. This film provokes big and uncomfortable questions, exploring a muddy morality that eschews simplistic observations about right and wrong. Instead, the viewer is left having to grapple with the fact that the full story is a rarity, perhaps even a myth, and that our want to draw conclusions and make judgements can be a truly toxic impulse.

What is so intelligent about this last point is how this message is so integral to the form of the film: the narrative works primarily through omission, forcing you to make judgements in the moment and only later providing context, or not at all. The viewer is presented as an outsider, or as a voyeur, and that positioning comes to function as a very astute, and cutting, critique of a society in which the privileged demonise and look down on the unfortunate based on whatever biased information they can scrap together – especially information that fits preconceived narratives. This being an arthouse British film, those involved know who the audience is, and they know – in general – that the central characters are not of that presumed audience, and this dichotomy is weaponised in a very effective way.

The clever usage of expectations comes straight away as, to begin with, Lynn + Lucy presents itself as a slice-of-life drama. Some of this comes from the title, a seemingly purposeful allusion to Kelly Reichardt’s fantastic Wendy and Lucy. That film is an observational exposé of modern poverty, focusing on one woman’s struggle with homelessness and how the cruel makeup of capitalist society imprisons the unfortunate in spirals of misfortune. To an extent, Lynn + Lucy treads similar ground: our eponymous protagonists are working class women who are struggling to get by in a society that works against them. Though their experience is importantly distinct from Reichardt’s Wendy, the approach is similar: a portrait into a part of society rarely seen on film. For the first act, the film seems like a clear cousin to the Reichardt film, functioning as a narrative-light, verité insight into those struggling to get by in modern society. Lynn is looking for a job, for the first time ever (she’s in her mid to late 20s) after having had a child at 16 and dropping out of school. Lucy has just had a child, with a younger man, and their relationship is presented as fractious. Both characters are clearly not where they want to be and are concerned about failure, societal expectation and adult life in general.

There are so many films about post-college malaise, your Stillmans and Baumbachs standing out in particular. It is therefore nice to see this same atmosphere, and narrative conceit of listless disappointment, applied to a wider part of society – and one where the central issue is more profound. However, Lynn + Lucy does not continue in this mode. It begins as a touching tale of friendship and trying to get by but morphs into a very clear drama about wider social issues. The viewer is thrown out of their comfort zone and suddenly has to view these characters in different ways, and has to respond to conflicts – and dynamics – they would not expect. This pushes it so far away from falling into cynical poverty porn, and makes for a very affecting film. The role of the title also morphs throughout the film.

To start, the film is so clearly about female friendship – specifically that intense form of female friendship, where the two completely rely on each other. This is accented by the narrative style, the focus on omitted conflict meaning we mostly see aftermath, which is where the observations about friendship exist. We do not see the problems or catalysts, but we do see two women looking out for each other and looking after each other – or just existing together. Divorcing this from context shows us the role of friendship: to function as a balm to our woes, to be unconditional. In this instance, the title works as a sum (the addition sign being purposeful) where our two characters function as either side of a complete equation. The idea here being that they come together to make a whole, thus presenting reliance and connection. However, a key event at the end of act one changes everything and repurposes the narrative style. Judgement free friendship morphs into suspicion, a lack of context becoming a wedge rather than a bridge. Here, Lynn starts to move away from Lucy and becomes the film’s focus, the + Lucy on the end of the title starting to function as an aside. So much of this film is about how expectations stick to us and define us: to begin with, the Lynn + Lucy sum is representative of an important friendship; later, it becomes an expectation forced onto two people, and one that Lynn wishes to escape.

This growth of character becomes the narrative focus. It is a film about a want to escape and change, firmly focused on evoking class divide in British society and how the judgements informed by this crass system ruin people. So much of the film is told through motifs and symbols but the beauty is that it doesn’t feel artistic or allegorical, it always feels like a piece of kitchen-sink realism. This allows it to hit hard and also to speak more clearly about society. However, it is full of such clever touches: like how a chiastic shift in characterisation (where the symbolic leader is relegated to the shadows and the previous ‘side-kick’ is thrown into the foreground) is represented, at one point, through symbolic makeovers. One character is glammed up, in a way that also evokes falsity and deceit, a moment before the other is metaphorically shamed – through a ‘makeover’ – in a very clever moment that works perfectly for the narrative, and for the characters, but also exists as a potent symbol. This style of storytelling exists throughout the film, subtle repetitions and motifs espousing themes but also blending into a realist tapestry.

But these motifs also work so well because this is a film about spirals and repetitions. Moments echo and reoccur to show a lack of progress and to show how systems, be they large or small, oppress people – and how the already unfortunate are always let down. Alongside all of this though, there is an incredibly raw and emotive narrative with a whole host of very well realised characters. For me, the film truly hit home. The places in it looked just like the places where I grew up; the characters like people I know – and, often, that I don’t know anymore. Through showing the singular story of Lynn and Lucy our eyes are opened to how many Lynns and Lucys exist, and the stories that exist behind the sensationalist headlines that prey on working class Britons. This is a film of empathy and humanity but it is also one of reflection, in which the viewer is supposed to reflect upon their attitudes and positioning. This is aided by a focus on realism – the soundtrack is purely diegetic, for example – but is sharpened by clever usage of symbolism and metaphor. This may look like yet another British, kitchen-sink drama, and it presents itself as that by design, but it is so much more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s