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Lawn Dogs

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Lawn Dogs

Starring: Mischa Barton, Sam Rockwell
Director: John Duigan
Rated: R
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: May 1998
Genre: Drama

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

To the brick mansions of Camelot Gardens with their wide expanses of green grass interrupted sporadically by scraggly trees comes the only poor person for miles around. Trent Burns, played with subtle power by Sam Rockwell, doesn't live there, but he visits periodically to take care of those lush lawns and generally be abused by the mansion's condescending owners.

"The way I see it, you have people who own lawns and people who mow them," Trent says, explaining his role at the bottom of the social hierarchy. "And they are never the same." Full of self-deprecating humor, Trent faces his reduced opportunities in life with spunk but not much hope. He lives in a beat-up trailer parked illegally in a state forest.

John Myhre's interior sets of the homes have cool, pale blues accented with perky roses and purples. As the quirky film starts, it looks like another plastic parody, but director John Duigan has something else entirely in mind. The imaginative director of SIRENS stages scenes in ways shocking, surprising, and generally quite satisfying. With rampant sexuality, violent undertones, and fascinating characters, the film has something for everyone.

The central character in this modern fable is a precocious, 10-year-old girl, Devon Stockard, played with wonderful complexity by newcomer Mischa Barton. She delivers a riveting performance that constantly surprises. With her wide-eyes and broad smile, she is devilishly delightful and ever inquisitive. Although Devon seems as though she might turn into a Lolita, she never does. She is, however, a completely free spirit and a perfect match for her bosom buddy, Trent.

Devon's father is played by Christopher McDonald from last year's LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and her mother by Academy Award nominee Kathleen Quinlan from APOLLO 13. Devon rebels against them. In her most palpable protest, she sits on the top of her father's car and urinates on his car's windshield.

Devon's wildness comes out in other vivid ways. She walks out of her bedroom window one moonlit evening onto her rooftop. Once there, she discards her gown, which is shown magically floating upward on a warm summer breeze.

Devon has a bad heart (hers goes "dee dee dum, dee dee dum" when it should go "dee dum, dee dum, dee dum") and a propensity to see the world in terms of a fairy tale that she keeps inventing. ("Once upon a time in the middle of a dark forest, a boy lived alone…") The chemistry between Devon and Trent is a delight to behold and in moves in ways the audience never quite suspects.

Kathleen Quinlan, whose specialty is loyal, suffering housewives, plays an erotically charged one this time. Having a most unusual affair with one of the local young men, she manages to transmit a raw sexuality solely through her facial expressions. The director's talents are best seen in those scenes in which he transforms weed pulling and salad preparation into incredibly erotic undertakings.

LAWN DOGS, like SIRENS, basically defies description. Suffice it to say that it has just about everything in it, including a director who knows precisely how to combine the ingredients in amazing and compelling ways. The performance by young Mischa Barton alone is worth the price of admission.

LAWN DOGS runs 1:41. It is not rated but would be an R for nudity, sexual situations and violence and would be fine for older teenagers.

Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes

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