Dir: Scott Caan. US. 2006. 98mins.
Told with a casual poignancy and unpredictability,Scott Caan's TheDog Problem is loose, funky and impressively original. Taking its titlefrom a quotation by playwright Edward Abbey, it's a detailed comedy of mannersabout the strange and complicated emotional odyssey that the title animal sparksin a struggling young writer.
The secondnarrative feature from Caan (Dallas 362), the movie has a clean, unpretentious sensibilitydespite some flat, awkward passages and supporting characters who don't cohereas well as the lead players. The stronger movements are more prevalent, givingthe feature an understatement and bounce that marks The Dog Problem with freshness and sharp observation.
The movie arrivedin Toronto seeking a US distribution deal, and it is bound to emerge as ashrewd and lively acquisition target, especially in the wide arthouse market due to some appealing, fairly well-knownnames. But beyond English-language speaking territories it is likely to havevery limited play.
Solo (Ribisi) is a jittery, quietly desperate loner living in LosAngeles whose five-day-a-week, year-long therapysessions have depleted the money he made from his first novel. Faced withcrippling writer's block and crushing debt, he announces his intention toterminate his therapy when his doctor (a very funny Cheadle)suggests he buy a pet.
With his best pal,Casper (Caan himself, a loose and funny counterpointto Ribisi's rigidity), Solo acquires his new"friend," although he almost immediate regrets his decision, put off by thedog's complex physical requirements.
But just at themoment that his life is spiraling out of control - he is physically threatenedby a mobster, played by Kevin Corrigan in the least emotionally persuasive ofthe movie's storylines - Solo finds himself increasingly over-protective, both alertand emotionally drawn to the dog's moods, companionship and loyalty. Just asimportantly, the dog ruptures Solo's social estrangement and occasions hisintroduction to the beautiful, self-possessive Lola (Collins), an exoticdancer.
To its credit The Dog Problem is never sentimental nor cheap, despite the potential to be so. The visualhighpoint - a sequence that explains the dog's brief disappearance - reveals ayoung film-maker whose progress and maturity warrants full consideration.
Drawbacks thatfracture the movie's quieter, more relaxed tone include two subsidiary storylines,one of which involves Mena Suvarias a spoiled heiress, the other that has Kevin Corrigan as a loan shark.
Lynn Collins provesa powerful, vibrant presence and she centres The Dog Problem emotionally; certainlythe movie loses its edge and shape whenever she is off-screen.
Giovanni Ribisi is perhaps an unconventional screen presence, buthis actions, the cadences of his speech and his body movements make him a verylively and shrewd performer.
The hesitancy oftheir relationship carries a sharp emotional truth and authenticity, and Caan's own work as an actor clearly pays dividends in hishandling of their performances. He sharply negotiates the misdirection of theirdeveloping friendship, with the dialogue and sexual energy that passes betweenthem fluid and telling, their conversation spiky and precise.
Cinematography isfluid, aligned to the rhythm and movements of the actors. Editing is tight,reflecting how the script is very much about how people communicate and playoff each other.