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Dog Park (1998)

by on 2013/04/19

Dog Park (1998)

“I have this problem with romance. I don’t know. I just don’t trust it.”

* * * *

At first I had a good feeling about Dog Park. It was like finding a hidden treasure. Bruce McCulloch wrote and directed this movie? I had no idea! He sang “Terriers” on Kids in the Hall. He did that bit about feeling the heat of dog poop through a plastic bag. And as Gavin he told us about a dog that learned to smoke. This should be great!

Then I read the blurb on the back, with its execrable wordplay. “The new ‘hot spot’ is with Spot . . . get a whole new leash on life . . . losing love and fetching it again!” Makes me want to eat some grass and barf.

Finally I steadied myself and sat down to watch it. An hour and half later, I can confidently say bravo, Mr McCulloch, bravo. You’ve renewed the faith I lost to your marketing department. It’s not quite the product of his smarmy, cynical persona, but it’s funny, insightful, well-written, with a likeable cast.

Luke Wilson (Charlie’s Angels) stars as Andy, a mild-mannered dog owner who’s just broken up with Cheryl (Kathleen Robertson). With the help of two friends, a tragically hip couple (played by McCulloch and Janeane Garofalo), he works his way through heartbreak. One by one we meet a series of their acquaintances, often connected by pets, a sprawling ensemble of compelling characters, destined to collide in the end.

I’ve lived around dogs more than half my life, but am not what you’d call a pet person. Nor am I especially fond of romantic comedies. Nonetheless, this low-key effort really got its hooks into me. An especially familiar sub-plot notwithstanding, there are many moments of twistingly awkward situations, unpretentious quirk, and genuine (ugh) heart.

Not to mention – oh look, here I go – a virtual parade of Canadians. Aside from McCulloch and Robertson, the cast also features roles for Boyd Banks (The Wrong Guy), Natasha Henstridge (Species), Jennifer Irwin (Michael, Tuesdays and Thursdays), Ron James (Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town), comedian Harland Williams, and Tracy Wright, who was already so memorable in another Bruce bit, The Kids in the Hall’sThe Affair” sketch. Speaking of the Kids, Mark McKinney practically steals the show here as a pet therapist who has trouble relating to people.

The titular dog park is Trinity Bellwoods, between Queen West and Bloor in Toronto, and the locations betray not only the place, but the time the movie is set, with prominent references to Shift magazine and Twitch City. How could I not love it all?

My only substantial criticism involves the craft itself. I found some inconsistency between shots, within the same scenes, edits that didn’t line up, and jumps in lighting. In general, however, the lack of slickness kept things grounded. It always felt modest, truthful, familiar, and real . . . with just enough oddness to suggest an aversion to formula.

Mistaken identity . . . the value of country music . . . the significance of the number seven . . . and a great use for an ex’s pornography. These things and more are all revealed in this under-the-radar treat, which is just as rare in being funny without being malicious. It’s a big surprise I’d never have expected from the “stick it inside” comedian.

* * * *

Rated 14A

93 minutes

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