MOVIE REVIEW: The Dog Lover
“THE DOG LOVER”—ZERO STARS
Painting with a broad brush on any issue that has the words “rights” at the end of its title is always a losing proposition. One side’s vilified extremist is another side’s celebrated patriot. One group’s staunch conservative is another group’s insufferable fanatic. Applying those broad brush principals to the issue of animal rights, “The Dog Lover” wants you, the audience, to have a 100-minute Matthew McConaughey “A Time to Kill” moment in one of the most drawn-out and manipulative fashions possible. Originally titled “The Wrong Side of Right,” the film chooses its ambiguous side and buys out the entire paint department to prove it legitimate. The film begins a one-week run locally at the AMC South Barrington 20 multiplex.
Sara Gold (soap star Allison Paige) is your classic cause-chasing, internally-outraged Millennial. Ignoring her expensive marketing degree and high-powered day job career, Sara moonlights as a guerrilla investigator for the fictitious nonprofit United Animal Protection Agency. Playing like an extremist incarnation of PETA, their current whistle-blowing mission is to stop the rampant underground market of “puppy mills” while actively lobbying for a new law named Proposition 12 that aims to put stricter regulations on the breeding and selling of animals. Naturally, Sara’s parents immensely disapprove of her choice of a passionate torch-bearing venture.
Her UAPA leaders, embodied by the bitch-on-wheels exec Cassie Sumpter (TV actress Christina Moore) align their cross hairs on Daniel Holloway (professional movie villain James Remar), an outspoken opponent of Proposition 12 and highly successful, multi-generational breeder of hunting dogs. Posing as a vet student intern and secretly working with the local animal shelter officer Jackie O’Connell (former “ER” veteran Sherry Stringfield), she infiltrates the Holloway family farm to investigate for violations and negligence. Sneaking around and documenting with hidden surveillance, Sara is surprised to find little wrong-doing in the Holloway operations of Daniel, his veterinarian Liz (Lea Thompson), and soulful son Will (Jayson Blair of “Whiplash”). She begins to question the validity of the UAPA’s claims and methodologies, but not before falling in love with Will and a grandiose federal raid commencing on the Holloway farm.
Putting the overarching issues aside for a moment and looking at it solely as a movie, “The Dog Lover” is poorly constructed with grossly misplaced performances and intentions. The attempts of reformed vs. unrefined “white trash” tropes bloom from plenty of pick-up trucks, weak accents, brandished firearms, and tobacco spit tough talk. Naturally, those over-familiar characteristics clash with the attractive, tech-centered, and know-it-all city girl who begins to figure out the way this gravel road rides. We have seen this tired arc a thousand times and this one sins worse because of the issue manipulation connected to “The Dog Lover” itself.
It is entirely fair to grant that, out of the many animal breeders in the world, operations exist that are completely on the up-and-up with proper care and humane treatment of animals. No argument there. Not every dog breeder is a cruel and incensed perpetrator of animal slavery any more than not every Muslim is an ISIS terrorist or not every German was a Nazi. Advocating for such a truth is fine and dandy when the message is composed in a fair and balanced way. A film like the “The Dog Lover” is not the way to correct that message.
This film is one of the most thinly-veiled and overtly manipulative slaps of the face possible from a piece of cinema. Nearly every second of “The Dog Lover” is messy with sticky syrup and flaming stereotypes being flipped to baselessly chastise its opposition. Sure, an argument that PETA-like agencies can have their own loopholes and misplaced agendas is reasonable in theory. Fine, but that is a minority argument that will not change opinions through a puff piece film.
You cannot erase facts and statistics with one fictionally created example, even if you drop the “based on actual events” poster tag. That becomes insulting to the issue itself and audience intelligence. If you want to change minds, go make a documentary about a real humane animal breeder and present a human interest story of truths that way. Don’t serve us propaganda cooked in heavy saccharine with a Nicholas Sparks knockoff recipe. Better yet, just go down the hall and watch "The Secret Life of Pets."
LESSON #1: NEVER CARRY A PRESUMPTION OF GUILT—Early in the film, this lesson notion is discussed with truthful validity and added that no issue is every black-and-white before it veered to serve its own single-minded attack and agenda. Presuming all animal breeders are enslaving criminals is indeed wrong. They deserve their opportunity to prove their legal and ethical merits.
LESSON #2: THINK BEFORE YOU BUY OR DONATE—No matter which black, white, or gray area you reside in on the issue of animal rights, this lesson firmly applies to all parties. In the same way not all dog breeders are vetted and genuine, the same can be said of supposed charitable and advocacy organizations. Both sides (including this very movie) are going to prey on and manipulate your love of animals by either showing you the extreme examples of love or cruelty to serve their side and get your money. Either way, be an informed consumer or philanthropist. Research who or what you are giving your money to before you hand over that check or assign personal association.