Adele and Everything After (aka Letting Go of Adele) documentary review: for love of a very special dog

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Adele and Everything After green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Sensitive, marvelously engaging portrait of the extraordinary relationship between one woman and her service dog. A remarkable story told with intense empathy.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m a big animal lover; I’m desperate for movies about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

Do you need a good long wracking happy-sad cathartic sob? Here ya go: Adele and Everything After is joyous and heart-rending and poignant and bursting with love for and from doggos. This first documentary feature from filmmaker Melissa Dowler is a simple, marvelously engaging portrait of the extraordinary relationship between one woman and her service dog, and the beyond-bittersweet transition that must inevitably occur when the dog’s working life comes to an end.

Bostonian Marty Harris has suffered her entire life from a cardiac condition that leads to massive drops in her blood pressure resulting in unexpected fainting. Harris had hurt herself countless times, including serious injuries such as concussions, in her falls, which came without warning, until she went to Pennsylvania nonprofit Canine Partners for Life and asked if a service dog might be able to help her. No one had ever thought of using dogs to help people with cardiac issues, but it worked great. Adele, a black lab, has been alerting Harris to incipient drops in her blood pressure, helping her forestall fainting, so well that Harris went from being afraid to leave her house to living a full, even adventurous life. (She can even drive a car… though I wish the film had covered the details of how Harris manages this, particularly with the dog way in the back of the vehicle and seemingly too far away to keep tabs on Harris’s condition. It seems really risky.) No one knows how dogs are able to do this. It’s a remarkable extra underscore on the bond between humans and canines that may astonish even those of us who have had dogs for friends. Dowler’s sensitive eye on Harris with Adele makes it very plain just how connected they are to each other.

Harris auditions lots of new dogs. Can Hector replace Adele?
Harris auditions lots of new dogs. Can Hector replace Adele?

Which makes it all the more heartbreaking for us to watch now that, after nine years, Adele — who has a lot of white in her muzzle when we meet her — is getting on and is no longer as enthusiastic or as able to do her job anymore, and Harris must face the prospect of her retirement to a life of more ordinary doggie pursuits. Harris’s incredibly bravery in letting herself be so vulnerable on camera, in letting us see her pain at the thought of having to let go of the companion and helper who has been at her side literally 24/7 for almost a decade, only ensures that we are feeling everything with her. Will she be able to find a replacement for Adele? Will she find her freedom limited in the interim, while she is training a new dog? The tumult of her emotions will be familiar to those of us who have had to cope with aging pets — and with the melancholy shortness of their lives compared to ours. But what Harris is going through is something much more profound. Harris acknowledges that Adele is not dying, and that the dog will likely still be with her for many years still, but their relationship is going to change dramatically…

Whether you are an animal lover or a pet owner or not, Adele and Everything After tells its remarkable story with such intense empathy that you will be drawn deeply into it. I went through so many Kleenex. You may as well.

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