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Because of Winn-Dixie
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Who will be put to sleep first-the dog or the audience?"
3 stars

Occasionally, I get asked if I would still go to as many movies as I do if it weren’t my job and I wasn’t seeing them for free. By and large, I probably would–I was fascinated with them before I lucked into this gig and I cannot imagine a time when I wouldn’t still have a deep interest. That said, I will admit that there are a few types of films that would probably shoot to the bottom of my must-see list if I were just another dope heading to the multiplex. For example, I would probably avoid most films that promise to show that beneath the seemingly perfect surface of suburbia lay dark, unsettling secrets and torments. I would most likely skip most romantic comedies in which an uptight neurotic is brought out of his shell by a wacky free spirit (unless it is called “Something Wild,” of course). I would doubtlessly avoid anything where Rob Schneider received higher than third billing. (If Schneider, who recently got into a dust-up with an L.A. Times reporter when the latter used him as an egregious example of the sins of Hollywood, is reading this, I must stress that I mean no offense–his sense of humor and mine simply do not jibe.) And I can say with all assurances that I would probably never again sit through a film where the lives of a bunch of lonely people are changed forever when an adorable animal appears out of nowhere and immediately solves all of their personal problems like a flea-bearing Dr. Phil.

As a result, those of you who do have a taste for the latter may want to take my thoughts on “Because of Winn-Dixie” with several grains of salt. If you are one of those people, you will probably find the film a wholly satisfying experience for you and your family and I hope you enjoy it. However, while I am not entirely unsusceptible to the on-screen charms of a photogenic animal saving the day when they are done correctly (such as in the “Babe” movies and “My Dog Skip”), I need a little more to hold on to–even in my cute animal movies. There is none of that here and I suspect that while little kids will probably enjoy it, even they may find the proceedings a tad predictable.

As the film opens, young Opal (newcomer AnnaSophia Robb) has just moved to the sleepy town of Naomi, Florida with her preacher father (Jeff Daniels). With no friends, an absent monther and a distanced father, Opal is lonely and depressed and finds herself praying to God for just one friend. Luckily, of all the prayers in the world, She decides to answer this one and when Opal goes to the local Winn-Dixie supermarket for some macaroni, the store is invaded by a jumbo-sized dog that knocks over all the produce and leads the employees on a merry, messy chase before stopping right at Opal’s feet. Instantly, she claims that the dog is hers and calls him to her using the name “Winn-Dixie”. Luckily for him and her, the dog, which has thus far ignored all human commands, magically responds to her and she takes him home.

This was the scene where, even though I know I was supposed to be amused by the sight of people falling over and charmed by the sight of the mutt, a couple of things bothered me so much that I found the film quickly slip away from me. The first was the whole notion of naming the dog after the store, which just seems a little too clever and contrived for its own good (not to mention the most blatant example of product placement in a film title since Harold and Kumar went to White Castle and Harley-Davidson teamed up with the Marlboro Man) and not the sort of thing that a real little kid might have done, though I suppose we can all be thankful that they didn’t have their fateful meeting in a Wal-Mart. The second was the unlikely fact that after the dog has trashed what appears to be, by a conservative estimate, several hundred dollars worth of groceries, the manager simply allows Opal and the mutt to walk away after she claims it is her dog. Why not have her be forced to help out at the store with little tasks to help pay for the damages in order to illustrate the depth of her devotion to the mutt?

.Anyway, Opal and Winn-Dixie become fast friends and it turns out that the pooch is a natural at bringing lonely people together and helping them deal with personal traumas by . . .well, by just standing there and allowing people to bask in his dog-like nature as if they have never seen a cute dog (or even a cute dog movie) before. And despite the tiny size of Naomi, everyone that Opal meets seems to have some kind of trauma. At home, for example, there is her father (Jeff Daniels), who quite sensibly doesn’t want a dog around but we soon learn that he is just using that as an excuse because he hasn’t gotten over his wife leaving him. There is an elderly black woman (Cicely Tyson) who is regarded as a witch by most of the kids, but is really a half-blind recovering alcoholic. There is a local librarian (Eva Marie Saint) whom even Miss Havisham might consider to be weirdly reclusive. There is the meanie landlord who doesn’t want any messy dogs around. There are a pair of local bullies who call Opal “Baloney Breath”, but this is because at least one of them really likes her. Most inexplicably, there is the strange guy (Dave Matthews–yes, Dave Matthews) who seems to have appeared out of nowhere, possibly with some kind of shady past, who is running the pet store and who likes to open all the cages so that the animals can gather around him while he sings. At least that is why we are to assume why they mass around him–the more cynical might suggest that the animals are merely showing respect to a higher form of life who shares their belief in dumping their crap wherever they feel like.

Because there wasn’t a chance that anything unpredictable or tragic was going to occur (although what happens to some egg-salad sandwiches was a shame), I found myself reflecting on some of the more peculiar aspects of the film. First of all, how did a film such as this, which is basically a kiddie flick and nothing more, attract such a high caliber of talent? Jeff Daniels and Cicely Tyson are as good of actors as you can think of and Eva Marie Saint is pretty much a cinematic icon; why would they volunteer to appear in something where no matter how food or bad they were, they were inevitably going to be upstaged by both a cute kid and a cuter mutt? For that matter, why would Wayne Wang choose to direct such a film? Wang has had one of the more curious career trajectories in recent memory–this is a guy who became an indie film icon in the days before there was such a thing as “indie films” with his low-budget wonder “Chan is Missing” and later did the memorable “Smoke” and the ambitious failures like “Slam Dance” and “Chinese Box”. Yet he has also given us such utterly nondescript items as “Maid in Manhattan” and “Anywhere But Here”. Now there is this film, which is competently made, I suppose, but do you suppose that when he was scrambling to get “Chan is Missing” in the can, he was dreaming about the far-off day when he might be able to make his very own cute doggie film?

I also wanted to know why the film insisted on bringing some slightly questionable material into the story without ever really dealing with it in any way. For example, Opal wants to do something for the nearly-blind lady and hits upon the idea of getting a book from the library and reading it to her. A perfectly nice and noble gesture, yet when she asks the librarian for a suggestion of what she should read, the librarian (who knows exactly who she is planning to read to) immediately suggests “Gone With the Wind,” not really the kind of book that I would recommend reading to any character portrayed by Cicely Tyson. And then there is the notion of Opal’s mother having abandoned her and her father without an explanation. While I am perfectly happy to not have to deal with another plot about a dead parent, having Mom just up and leave them is the kind of thing that could raise any number of uncomfortable questions for parents, especially since the movie itself never explains her reasons. (I must admit that the cynic inside me is convinced that Mom decided to flee for the confines of another Wayne Wang film, preferably “The Center of the World”.)

Because it contains no foul language, sex or violence (aside from those poor egg-salad sandwiches) and only a couple of poop jokes (a modest amount considering the subject), there will be plenty of families eager to see “Because of Winn-Dixie” and I suspect that I may even get surly notes from people wondering why I would come out against a film that consciously eschews those elements to provide clean family fun. While I applaud the absence of those elements, there needs to be something actually in a film worth writing home about and there is none of that here. “Because of Winn-Dixie” is too aggressively bland and well-meaning for its own good; while there is never any danger that the dog will be put to sleep by the end, I cannot say the same for anyone in the audience over the age of 12.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11743&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/17/05 22:43:41
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User Comments

3/06/19 Suzanne good family movie, but the lawman was was a mistake 4 stars
8/23/17 Dr.Lao well golly if dis here movie ain't a cloying pile of steamy crap! 1 stars
1/25/09 Pamela White Very cute movie that brings people together. 4 stars
1/11/09 Anonymous. annasophia robb is adorable :] 4 stars
6/20/08 John Millheim Great to watch with the family, the dog is a trip 5 stars
1/01/08 victoria lukas great movie, heart warming, a little sad. 5 stars
9/09/07 Aimee This movie was great; very entertaining and some really funny times! I loved it. 5 stars
3/30/07 David Pollastrini The dog is cute 3 stars
1/26/07 Tamara Leonard I thought this was a sweet movie where misfits rule. 4 stars
6/26/06 Kaylee I absolutely LOVED this movie. It kept me entertained all the way through. 5 stars
6/11/06 V.S.Bennett I'm a HUGE Dave Matthews fan, but even he couldn't save it. 2 stars
11/17/05 Zenny sacharine mess 2 stars
11/12/05 Danny Offbeat, yet delightful little film with great characters> 5 stars
9/14/05 Tom Burns A really good family movie. 4 stars
8/27/05 Brent Blanchette The story captures the loneliness a child has when only one parent is there - see this one. 4 stars
8/26/05 Jordan Bradley A touching movie that is a great remake of the book. 4 stars
7/15/05 Green Gremlin Not a bad effort, but unlikely to start a craze for Picardy Shepherd dogs 4 stars
3/22/05 Victoria Ross Great movie. 5 stars
3/07/05 orpament another book ruined by the movie; I slept 2 stars
2/25/05 Theresa Wagner Great for kids 4 stars
2/25/05 James Kiang The previews made this look sappy but it turned out quite well done. 3 stars
2/25/05 Barbara Mitchem Fantastic Movie, no violence, ugly words. Just a great family movie. 5 stars
2/25/05 Shannon Schumacher Good lessons for children to learn 4 stars
2/24/05 David Burns Above-average kids movie I enjoyed with my daughter. Good adptation of a great book. 4 stars
2/22/05 Heather The Book and the movie are so close it is scary!! A soon to be CLASSIC!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/19/05 mott the drupal earl dittman said this movie was great, ie avoid it any cost. 1 stars
2/18/05 Sharon Davis Spent my time waiting for something big to happen. Kept waiting 2 stars
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  18-Feb-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 09-Aug-2005



Directed by
  Wayne Wang

Written by
  Joan Singleton

  Jeff Daniels
  Dave Matthews
  Eva Marie Saint
  Cicely Tyson
  Annasophia Robb

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