Review

Sleeping Dogs

Director    Bobcat Goldthwaite
Starring    Melinda Page Hamilton, Bryce Johnson, Jack Plotnick, Colby French, Brian Posehn
Release    October 20th 2006 (US) March 7th (UK)    Certificate 18
4 stars

Ali

21st February 2007

"My name is Amy, and yes, at college, I blew my dog."

Quite the opening line, no? It's the suitably bizarre beginning to this bestiality-themed rom-com, directed by former Police Academy oddball and comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite. Man, was this ever a hard sell to the producers - imagine sitting at your desk when in walks Officer Zed and tells you all about his film and its acts of canine copulation. You'd expect the Candid Camera crew to burst in at any moment. Don't be put off by its offbeat credentials, because Sleeping Dogs (formerly Stay) is a warm-hearted and hilarious dissection of relationships, and how honesty isn't necessarily always the best policy.

Amy (Hamilton) is the girl for whom the phrase 'give a dog a bone' is particularly appropriate. But that was then, and this is now - she's got a great job as a primary school teacher and has found a fantastic man in the shape of fiancÚ John (Johnson), who she's willing to drop everything to be with. When a late night heart to heart leads to the dreaded "I feel like I could tell you anything" conversation, Amy is duped into confessing her dark secret and has to face the consequences of not only losing her fiancÚ but losing her status as the family's 'diamond girl' as a result. Her meth-addicted brother Dougie (Plotnick) isn't much help, nor is her mother's revelation that she had sex with Roy Orbison on tour while seeing her father.

Sleeping Dogs takes great pleasure in squeezing laughs out of the most awkward of situations. As well as the confession in question, there are plenty of cringe-worthy moments where the only response is nervous laughter and peeking through the gaps of your fingers. An early section, in which fiancÚ John is introduced to Amy's family, has a definite Meet The Parents vibe, only with druggy Dougie at the dinner table (who knows Amy's doggy dilemma), the meal doesn't exactly go down as planned. The scene in which Dougie serenades roommate John on a tiny portable keyboard he found in the trash is a definite highlight ("They didn't know what they had"). More laughs come from Dougie's hapless friend Randy (Brian Posehn), who lightens the mood with a confession of his own: "I kissed a dead body once." Many scenes play out in painful silence, with no whimsical score to puncture the tension or humorous one-liners by suspiciously hilarious members of the family.

Hamilton is wonderfully understated as Amy, who in actuality, isn't the kind of drunk college slut who'd go down on her doggy at all, but a shy, affable and sweet girl. So giddy is she that she's found a man she can relate to, she puts it all on the line by wearing her heart on her sleeve, and it's heart-breaking when she realises she might have jeopardised her future because of one dumb thing she did when she was young. Johnson, on the other hand, doesn't feel right for Amy from the start, and his eventual transformation into asshole of the month isn't entirely convincing.

Sleeping Dogs dares to question the old adage that honesty is the cornerstone of a good relationship. Is keeping quiet about certain things really going to have that much damage in the long run? What you don't know, can't hurt you, right? A typical romantic comedy might try to peddle you easy answers, but as you may have guessed, Sleeping Dogs is not a typical romantic comedy. It handles an engaging (and occasionally gross) subject matter with surprising care and a devilish wit, never afraid to go that extra step for a chuckle but always careful not to opt for a crude way out. Besides, it's refreshing to see a comedy that doesn't pander to the masses like so many others: one thing is for sure, you won't see Ben Stiller admitting that he fucked his cat on your local multiplex anytime soon.

More:  Comedy  Romance  Sex  Animals
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