By Shobana Rao
The sun slowly rises and illuminates the sky and an empty strip mall in the opening scene of Wexford Plaza. This Canadian suburban strip mall is the centerpiece of the film and the life of 19-year-old security guard, Betty. Betty, like most teenagers, simply wants to fit in and find her place in the world. Unfortunately, her security job at the local strip mall doesn’t quite have the community she hopes for. When she isn’t on duty in her isolated security booth, she spends her time with her crude male coworkers who make Betty very aware that she is an outsider in their “boy’s club” as they constantly smoke weed and watch porn in front of her. Wexford Plaza is a relatable tale about the struggle of young people trying to negotiate who they are and who they want to be. Through her portrayal of Canadian suburbia, director Joyce Wong captures the frustration of feeling stuck in the same place despite how hard the wheels are turning.
The film parallels Betty’s story with a bartender in the strip mall, Danny. The same series of events occur through both perspectives, emphasizing the idea that there are two sides to every story and life is more complex that we can ever know. Betty, a socially isolated teenager struggles to fit in with her peers. She attempts to smoke and drink as much as her male counterparts and becomes overly intoxicated on more than one occasion. After Danny drives her home one night after too much to drink, she fixates on him. She tries to engage in activities she thinks Danny would like in an attempt to get closer to him, but her efforts always seem futile. She reads Danny’s few acts of kindness toward her as the prospect for romance.
When the narrative switches to the point of view of Danny, we learn that he is a 31-year-old bartender with immense debt and a girlfriend who is quickly losing her patience with him lack of ambition. They cannot afford to upgrade their living situation or their relationship status because they are stuck in a financial and therefore emotional rut. Danny is unable to make progress no matter what he does. At a certain point in the film, he loses his job and then unintentionally enters a pyramid scheme selling beauty products. Both Danny and Betty share many traits. They both struggle to communicate and connect with those around them. They are representative of people who slip through the cracks of society despite their attempts to maintain societal and cultural expectations. Neither has a typical employment role which critiques gender expectations in the larger theme of the American dream. It plays on the systematic pressure to fill a certain role and then implied failure when that role isn’t achieved. Danny’s inability to find stable work is at the root of many of his problems.
Wexford Plaza explores a pocket of people and places that have been forgotten and left behind by capitalist agendas and modernity. Wong explains that her goal is to show, “the relic of an American dream crumbling”. The strip mall is the physical embodiment of this sentiment. Once a suburban commodity, it is now an abandoned memory of broken dreams. Betty and Danny figuratively embody the crumbling of the American dream. Betty is a young woman who repeatedly faces failed promises of romance. She struggles to find her community which in turn leads to her acts of desperation toward Danny, which deviate from her true nature of vulnerability and autonomy. Danny is a young man who cannot succeed no matter what he does. He loses his job and then his girlfriend. He cannot escape his working class status.
Danny is particularly impactful in his role because he, as an Asian Canadian man, represents more than just the suburban struggle. He is not only Asian and he is more than a “white washed” figure. Danny is a beautiful portrayal of cultural specificity in an authentic way that shows dynamic cultural influence without it being his only attribution. He is one of many ways to understand the overarching themes of the film.
The visual aesthetic of the film captured certain nostalgia for the past and a more innocent time. The color pallet was dulled warm and earthy tones similar to a faded childhood photo. The handy camera work gave the film and the characters a quality of rawness. The characters’ laughter, tears, and struggles invoke a real emotion in the audience. Their interactions are awkward and real but there is also innocence to them. Each character is just trying to figure their own life out, but in doing so, they unknowingly tear each other down. They are unaware of the consequences of their actions, much like children.
As a final act of desperation, Betty chooses to send Danny a photo of her in a bra. Though this could have been a simple misunderstanding, Danny’s girlfriend is the one who sees the photo, which is the final straw for her. In this single moment, both Betty and Danny spiral into a social downfall, destroying their current life and any prospect of hope for a better future. Danny now unemployed and single comes to resent Betty. She is then publicly humiliated with the photo by her coworkers, causing her to quit her job, leaving her too unemployed and without the social support she so craves.
The film exemplifies how individuals working to survive in a failing system are desperate to preserve the nostalgia and innocence of the past and promises of the future but are ultimately let down. As a result, they internalize their failure, unable to understand what went wrong because in reality, it is the system that failed them. One of the final images in the film is Danny sitting alone in security booth, isolated in the same ways that Betty was at the start.
About the Author
Shobana Rao is a Chicago native who got her degree in Media Cinema Studies and Television Production from DePaul University. She honed in on her interests of creative writing and desire to understanding different facets of the human experience by pursuing her master’s degree in Relational Communication. She currently works at Number Project, a creative agency dedicated to bringing incomparable artistic experiences to the local community as well as brands across the country. Her hobbies include writing short stories and exploring the hidden and forgotten places in this world. She loves telling stories and above all else, hearing the stories others have to tell.