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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Dog Park (review)

Love and a Bit with a Dog

I don’t get those guys who acquire dogs hoping that walks in the park with the pooches will attract women. Well, okay, the pooches do attract women, but only to the pooches. Haven’t these guys noticed that the gals bend down and talk to the dogs, and tend to walk away without ever once looking the dogs’ owners in the eyes? Hope springs eternal, I guess.

Dog Park‘s dog lovers aren’t so superficial — in fact, the most fulfilling relationships in their lives are with their pets. Take poor Andy (Luke Wilson: Rushmore), for example: not only is he bereft and lonely now that his girlfriend, Cheryl (Kathleen Robertson), has left him for another man, but she was heartless enough to take their adorable mutt, Mr. Mobley, with her. So now Andy goes to the dog park — where locals can let their dogs run free and romp with one another — to remember better times, and visit with other people’s dogs. And then there’s Lorna (Natasha Henstridge: Species II), who, in her own post-breakup misery, focuses all her attention on spoiling her fat old dog, Peanut. Most tellingly, there’s “everybody’s favorite couple,” Jeff and Jeri (Bruce McCulloch and Janeane Garofalo: Cop Land, Mystery Men). The hilariously annoying perfection of their relationship will eventually prove not as enduring as the adoration they shower on their “girls,” a pair of frightening Boxers.
For a film that’s more realistic — almost depressingly so — about singlehood and the dating game than most romantic comedies, Dog Park is paradoxically madly in love with ordinary life. Andy, who calls himself a loser, is actually a genuinely sweet guy whose biggest problem is that he’s a little too nice for his own good. (The charming Wilson is like a less prickly, slightly dorkier version of David Duchovny, with a touch of Bill Pullman’s sardonicism.) The gorgeous Lorna is clad in the “uniform of the depressed” — sweatpants — when she crankily brushes off Andy’s initial approach. (Who knew Henstridge, who’s made a name for herself playing an alien blow-up doll in the Species movies, could actually act?) Andy and Lorna ping-pong off each other — through weird and uncomfortable dates with each other and with other people — during the course of a luscious Toronto autumn: many a dog romps through piles of golden leaves, many a cozy sweater is donned. The comfortable realism helps Dog Park‘s off-kilter humor and commentary on romance in the 90s hit home more than a slick flick like Runaway Bride could ever hope to.

Even Dog Park‘s bizarre humor offers painful zings of relationship reality along with laughs. Andy is forced to confront the fact that his ex has jumped right back into the romance ring when Mr. Mobley starts acting up: He’s been traumatized by bearing witness to Cheryl’s “out of control” sex life, according to the renowned, and somewhat obsessive, animal therapist (played appropriately over-the-top by McCulloch’s fellow Kid in the Hall, Mark McKinney: The Out-of-Towners) to whom Andy and Cheryl take the dog for treatment. The knife in Andy’s wound is twisted more when the doc suggests a shared-custody arrangement for Mr. Mobley, who should split his time between Andy and Cheryl — Andy’s complete lack of a sex life should be a relaxing change of pace for the dog.

Written and directed by Bruce McCulloch, Dog Park isn’t a perfect film. Some scenes have a sketch-comedy feel to them (not surprising, considering McCulloch’s comedic roots), with dialogue a bit too contrived in a few spots, and the plot suffers from a tad too many coincidences. But on the whole, Dog Park cheerfully touches on realities of love and romance that movies all too often ignore, and makes us laugh at the fears and insecurities that plague us all. I’d much rather see more films like this than the candy-coated “romantic comedy” sap that Hollywood cranks out.

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

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