The film begins with Zoe, flustered and looking to spite, as she runs down the stairs with her four children in tow — her infant child, whom she cradles on her hip, is without a diaper the moment was so rushed. The clan of ladies storm the streets until they find themselves outside a neighborhood home, with Zoe banging on the door outside. Once the door is opened, a fight ensues. It is clear from the words exchanged during the scuttle that Zoe has been called a bad mother and she doesn’t like that. After the brief physical dispute subsides, the mother and daughters turn and peacefully walk away from the situation — after first turning to flick the woman off.
The young women walk down the road and suddenly Zoe finds herself on memory lane, unexpectedly running into an old flame from days gone by, the one that got away, Dave. The two converse, she outside his car and he in the passenger seat. She admires his lips, there is some mutual flirtation, and a date is proposed for the evening. Zoe doesn’t want to miss her chance but panics inside, knowing full well she won’t be able to find anyone to look after the girls — much less pay them. Zoe agrees to the date, determined to find a way to fully realize what could have been with this man, or could be.
We transition to their family apartment and quickly understand the character of Zoe and her girls though the films set decoration and visual detailing, such as a sticker that says “I want to be Barbie, the bitch has everything”, toys scattered everywhere, absolutely no food, Crayola pictures taped on the wall. It’s clear that Zoe loves and cares for her children, she’s involved, playful, and coaching, but financially incapable of providing and severely lacking an individual life. The plight of most single mothers in this socio-economic bracket.
After conversing with a friend on the phone with matters perhaps more explicit than Zoe’s eldest daughter should be hearing, Zoe prepares herself for date night and leaves the house — with her children in tow. Blindly believing this evening’s balancing act will work out, Zoe walks with her daughters for miles to her and Dave’s meeting spot: a local dive bar with billards and smoke. As it is approaching dinner time and no one has eaten anything of substance all day, Zoe gets soda and chips for her daughters dinner — and nothing for herself. She advises the girls to stay and play outside (which is parking lot) while she attempts to reconnect with Dave; however, as the hours pass and hunger builds, this seemingly godsent meeting with Dave proves to be disastrous.
Andrea Arnold’s “Wasp” is a telling character study about a single mother unable to provide for her children, or herself. It’s a short film that communicates so much within a brief span of time, humanizing the often stereotyped persona of a neglectful mother. Oftentimes, stories of this nature villanize the mother or negligent parent, forming a narrative around the individuals lack of creed and egregious morals and ethics — shocking audiences with a visual warning of who a bad person is and providing a checklist of the acts and responses that make up such a person. However; the reality is, everyone thinks they are a good person… and, in many cases, being a neglectful parent does not mean you’re a completely bad, rotten, villainous person, it’s just a sign that you do not have the resources necessary to provide. Such is the case with Zoe in Andrea Arnold’s “Wasp”, which has become one of my favorite short films over the years, not only for its message, but also its truthful progression of visuals, sense of atmosphere, and fluid naturalism. This is a film that will leave you affected, reflecting, and, hopefully, a little more empathetic to the lives of others after viewing. I know at least for me, the memory still has a firm hold.