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 Post subject: Al Warren: Dogleg (2023)
PostPosted: Wed May 01, 2024 3:35 pm 
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Woof woof - L.A/ improv comedy

This amiably wacky film is made up of a series of short, semi-independent scenes that sort of fit together and unfold around Al Warner (Al Warren), a director described in the notes as "amateur." At work on a film for four or five years, early on Al loses his girlfriend's dog, Roo (Chuy), an elderly Golden Retriever. This happens a few hours after she - Rita (Ella Smith), the wife, not Roo - departs on a trip.

The first scene shows the affectionate codependent couple taking long leave of each other. Rita has so many instructions for Al; Al finds it so hard to say goodbye. Thinking back, we may realize the scene, like all the rest of them in Dogleg, is highly improvised, and someone has compared this film to John Cassavetes. But Cassavetes was working a lifetime ago working with East Coast relationships, and Al Warren and his crew are focused on a random cross section of contemporary Los Angeles.

The film folds into itself in an appealingly offhand way and makes some broad generalizations of what movies are that are thought-provoking and somehow avoid being self-conscious or pretentious. The basic point is that film isn't neatly defined like a novel or play but more like music, and chaos and chance play a bigger role: a film can't be controlled.

Speak for yourself, Al! But the method works here due to its prevalent casualness, and a capturing of modern American thirty-something Los Angeles behavior and vernacular. It's not surprising that there are yoga or body consciousness teaching moments, or that Al's father (David Aaron Baker) engages a pet search specialist who is also a shaman (DeMorge Brown).

Right after the departure of his Rita, Al has to go to a "gender reveal" party at an expensive house in the Pacific Palisades. She says it's a two-million-dollar house and Al points out how absurd that is: in their part of L.A. every house is worth that or much more. Al takes Roo, his wife's dog, to the party on a leash because, well, Roo requires a lot of attention, and it's like that. The host (Dylan Redford) misleadingly says the yard is fully fenced and Roo can be off her leash. Al lets Roo off her leash, and Roo bounds away with a large, also elderly, setter, and disappears. Though Al goes looking and later posts "lost dog" posters, this issue lies hanging unresolved through most of the film, a pretext, a McGuffin, that makes everything in between the loss of Roo and the finding or Roo a sort of shaggy dog story.

Al has a shoot scheduled that evening. It's an absurd disaster, and that's one of the scenes toward the end of the film. Somehow Al gets saddled with an electronic skateboard gadget to go searching around for Roo; his host insists he needs it because it would be too much walking, though Al can't ride it properly. A strange woman he runs into, who talks him into buying her a mojito, runs off with it.

A scene along the way involves a quite handsome young man on a scooter, who says he's from Norway, who is captured by two women to help them carry a large mattress up an outdoor stairway to an apartment, and then gets roped into taking tea, and then something more intimate. Another woman gives Al a ride, and then she wants something too. She wants him to "see" her.

An equally arresting, borderline grating moment involves a casting session where half a dozen or more actors show their ability to laugh, and then one just stares at the casting directors, one of whom finds this hilarious. It's just that game where two people practice staring at each other to see who breaks up first, but the film draws something indefinable and memorably strange out of it. Another layer is provided by a voiceover conversation between Al and a film critic he admires and from whom he seeks help and advice. Events of the day indicate that Al is under unbearable pressure. His father warns him the lost dog may endanger his relationship with Rita that's the best thing that's ever happened to him. Hence his growing ill humor, despite initial great kindness in managing the set, at the evening shoot, resulting in his total meltdown.

The film passes off its self-consciousness and occasional rudeness easily because of its disarming casualness. It is an illustration of the concept that filmmaking is an ensemble effort which, even in this post-covid digital, video age, is still largely true. It's a fresh and appealing debut for Warren, who directs, stars, and cowrote in collaboration with the novelist Michael Bible. In an interview in Southwest Review they have listed as influences Roy Andersson, Ruben Östlund, Yorgos Lanthimos, and "even weirder, off-beat stuff." Warren says Cassavetes on Cassavetes is his "bible" for "DIY filmmaking," but he also likes Éric Rohmer.

Dogleg, 82 mins., had a limited release Apr. 12, 2023. MUBI releases it on the internet May 1, 2024.

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