A young woman flees her physically abusive mate, taking the first flight out of Buffalo to Los Angeles, where she lands with a thud and luckily is befriended by a one-of-a-kind handler of pooches that belong to rich folk living in the hills. A promising debut by writer-director Jacques Thelemaque
, "The Dogwalker" is one of those rare outsider-comes-to-L.A. films that captures the city's smoggy human atmosphere of promise and abandon -- and isolation -- without being preachy.
Not to be confused with a 1999 indie comedy of the same name directed by Paul Duran, "Dogwalker" benefits greatly from the lead performances by Diane Galdry and Pamela Gordon ("Chuck & Buck"). As bashed and stoned Ellie, Galdry says a lot without actually having much memorable dialogue. Her character's unreliableness, particularly after Gordon's Betsy -- angrily distrustful but physically deteriorating -- gives her a chance to work and live almost normally, is not the stuff saints are made of. But this is a tale of women who don't fit into the mold of model wives and girlfriends.
Indeed, Ellie and Betsy share the unfortunate experience of men who are physically violent. The latter, it is revealed, has a reputation as a wife who killed her husband. While Ellie does not learn kickboxing or train for the big showdown, it does eventually happen, without straining credibility too much, and she gets the satisfaction of giving her rabid nemesis (Alan Gelfant
) a righteous pummeling.
Other characters in the canine-centric milieu include a pet "channeler" (Lyn Vaus
), a dog psychic Lisa Jane Persky
) and a starlet (Kerry Bishop
) whose four-legged baby is lost by -- as Betsy calls her -- Ellie the "useless pothead punching bag." But even cynical, fading demigods like Betsy have hearts, and Ellie starts to see the benefits of stability and an improving sense of self-worth.
Founders of the producing Filmmakers Alliance, Thelemaque and Gaidry are married in real life, and she's a bona fide dogwalker. Rather than being self-indulgent or pretentious, however, the film comes up with many believable details and changes in direction that enrich the bittersweet central relationship of the two leads. It doesn't hurt having an irresistible pack of furry supporting characters who try, and manage a few times, to steal their scenes.
Screenwriter-director: Jacques Thelemaque
Producers: Linda L. Miller, Hilary Six
, Jacques Thelemaque
Executive producers: David Diaan
, Thoms Gaidry
Director of photography: Marco Fargnoli
Production designers: Joe Warson
, Robert Lalibertere
Editor: Jeff Orgill
Costume designer: Claudia Coleman
Music: Joel Diamond
Ellie: Diane Galdry
Betsy: Pamela Gordon
Walter: Lyn Vaus
Alyson: Lisa Jane
Glen: Alan Gelfant
Dave: John Nielsen
Amanda Singer: Kerry Bishop
Running time -- 99 minutes
No MPAA rating