To the brick mansions of Camelot Gardens with their wide expanses
of green grass interrupted sporadically by scraggly trees comes the
only poor person for miles around. Trent Burns, played with subtle
power by Sam Rockwell, doesn't live there, but he visits periodically
to take care of those lush lawns and generally be abused by the
mansion's condescending owners.
"The way I see it, you have people who own lawns and people who
mow them," Trent says, explaining his role at the bottom of the social
hierarchy. "And they are never the same." Full of self-deprecating
humor, Trent faces his reduced opportunities in life with spunk but not
much hope. He lives in a beat-up trailer parked illegally in a state
John Myhre's interior sets of the homes have cool, pale blues
accented with perky roses and purples. As the quirky film starts, it
looks like another plastic parody, but director John Duigan has
something else entirely in mind. The imaginative director of SIRENS
stages scenes in ways shocking, surprising, and generally quite
satisfying. With rampant sexuality, violent undertones, and
fascinating characters, the film has something for everyone.
The central character in this modern fable is a precocious,
10-year-old girl, Devon Stockard, played with wonderful complexity by
newcomer Mischa Barton. She delivers a riveting performance that
constantly surprises. With her wide-eyes and broad smile, she is
devilishly delightful and ever inquisitive. Although Devon seems as
though she might turn into a Lolita, she never does. She is, however,
a completely free spirit and a perfect match for her bosom buddy,
Devon's father is played by Christopher McDonald from last year's
LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and her mother by Academy Award nominee Kathleen
Quinlan from APOLLO 13. Devon rebels against them. In her most
palpable protest, she sits on the top of her father's car and urinates
on his car's windshield.
Devon's wildness comes out in other vivid ways. She walks out of
her bedroom window one moonlit evening onto her rooftop. Once there,
she discards her gown, which is shown magically floating upward on a
warm summer breeze.
Devon has a bad heart (hers goes "dee dee dum, dee dee dum" when
it should go "dee dum, dee dum, dee dum") and a propensity to see the
world in terms of a fairy tale that she keeps inventing. ("Once upon a
time in the middle of a dark forest, a boy lived alone…") The chemistry
between Devon and Trent is a delight to behold and in moves in ways the
audience never quite suspects.
Kathleen Quinlan, whose specialty is loyal, suffering housewives,
plays an erotically charged one this time. Having a most unusual
affair with one of the local young men, she manages to transmit a raw
sexuality solely through her facial expressions. The director's
talents are best seen in those scenes in which he transforms weed
pulling and salad preparation into incredibly erotic undertakings.
LAWN DOGS, like SIRENS, basically defies description. Suffice it
to say that it has just about everything in it, including a director
who knows precisely how to combine the ingredients in amazing and
compelling ways. The performance by young Mischa Barton alone is worth
the price of admission.
LAWN DOGS runs 1:41. It is not rated but would be an R for
nudity, sexual situations and violence and would be fine for older
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes