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  Truth About Cats and Dogs, The Pet Project
Year: 1996
Director: Michael Lehmann
Stars: Uma Thurman, Janeane Garofalo, Ben Chaplin, Jamie Foxx, James McCaffrey, Richard Coca, Stanley DeSantis, Antoinette Valente, Mitch Rouse, La Tanya M. Fisher, Faryn Einhorn, David Cross, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Bob Odenkirk, Dechen Thurman
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Abby Barnes (Janeane Garofalo) is a presenter on talk radio who hosts her own vet show where callers contact her with their pet issues and she solves them thanks to her keen understanding of the subject. But where she's superconfident when that is being discussed, she's not so bright on the subject of her own life, and she hasn't been in a relationship for years because her self-esteem is at an all-time low. However, things begin to look up when photographer Brian (Ben Chaplin) calls in to the show with an unusual problem...

That being he has an angry dog on rollerskates to contend with, always a tricky proposition. The joke that went around about The Truth About Cats and Dogs at the time was that they only like you because you feed them and they die before you do, but there's little quite as harsh about the film itself. That was something which rankled with star Garofalo, who was vocal in her disdain for the final result; where she had signed on for a complicated love story made for an indie budget, but then found she was co-starring with Uma Thurman and a lot of compromises had to be made, not least because she was treated as the star when it was Abby's tale.

No matter what she thought, this was warmly received when it was released, mainly thanks to Garofalo's presence, which was a lot more convincing as a woman too down on herself to accept love than about ninety percent of the shallower romantic comedies out there. Whatever she thought, it was in her performance that some of that depth she wanted for the project as it was originally actually made it to the screen, so while this was all very sweet, the emotional pain Abby is going through was all too realistic. Chaplin merely got to depict the nicest man in the universe, so it was not so much of a stretch to see why he would respond to Abby.

Except he thinks he's responding to Thurman's Noelle, a model who happens to be Abby's next door neighbour. She's not as sharp as her, but she is decent enough to agree to pose as the presenter when Brian asks to meet her in the flesh, liking her personality as it comes across over the airwaves. How is he to know that Noelle is merely the conduit through which her new best pal is channelling all her wit and intelligence? Brian certainly doesn't latch on even though they have different voices, which might make him seem like the dim one, but then screenwriter Audrey Wells (who had experience as a DJ) was using a gender-reversed Cyrano de Bergerac as her inspiration, and if it was good enough for that classic plot, it was good enough for her.

While it's never fall down hilarious, there are some chuckles, mostly due to a light touch for comedy shown by director Michael Lehmann and the cast around Garofalo. Her Abby is a different proposition, however, and there may be plenty of fans of this film who found it hard to believe anyone could find her unattractive (though oddly they accept the whole Cyrano conceit just fine, unconvincing as it is), but she conveys a true lack of self-worth which raises the stakes in what could have been another silly and contrived piece of fluff. No matter that she eventually found the movie anti-feminist, which was curious as the script emphasises the fact that personality is more important than looks when it comes to clicking with that special person, although the deck is stacked so much in favour of Abby and Brian getting together that however rocky their path to happiness may be, we can predict the outcome. Conventional, finally, but not unwelcome. Wouldn't like to see Brian's phone bill, mind you. Music by Howard Shore.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Michael Lehmann  (1957 - )

American comedy director who made a big splash with his debut, cult classic Heathers. The failure of Meet The Applegates and the disastrous Hudson Hawk sent him to television, where he still works, but he returned to the big screen with Airheads, charming romantic comedy The Truth About Cats and Dogs, flop My Giant and 40 Days and 40 Nights.

 
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