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Monday, August 4, 2008

Dogfight (1991)


Wonderfully Unconventional Love Story

Director Nancy Savoca tackles tough material in the battle of the sexes, late-teen division, and makes it bitterly moving. River Phoenix plays one of a group of youngish marines on the verge of shipping out to Southeast Asia in 1963 San Francisco. On their last night in port, they decide to hold a "dogfight": a contest to see who can get the ugliest girl to go out with him. Phoenix winds up with a pudgy waitress (Lili Taylor), who has dreams of being like her hero, Joan Baez. As he draws her out, he finds himself intrigued by the self-contained world she has created for herself and by the time he gets her to the dance he is regretting his decision--but is too macho to pull out. Barely released, the film features touching performances by both the late Phoenix and the always fascinating Taylor, who gives this character great dignity. --Marshall Fine


The premise sounds so cruel....a group of Marines each try to find the ugliest girl as a date for the dance, aka,"dogfight", and the one who's date is voted the ugliest (unbeknownst to the girls) wins the $50 prize money.

The story is about the two main characters, Eddie and his ugly date---Rose, on the last night before he and his buddies ship out to Viet Nam. I don't know how they were able to make this movie so touching, so human and so funny when the subject matter, on the surface, is so offensive. The scenes with Eddie's three best buddies are filled with youthful male humor---vulgar, crude and immature--- yet it rings so true and really is just plain hilarious. You love these guys. They don't know where they're going when they ship out, but they're together and nothing else matters. And the friendship that develops between Eddie and Rose also rings completely true.

I like the way the "ugly" girl turns out to be so witty and interesting and how the cute guy, over the course of the night, is so affected by her. The whole movie is just a wonderful surprise. From beginning to end. I still laugh whenever I think of one of the guys looking for ugly girls at the bus station and finding Miss Two Bears. This movie doesn't hit you over the head with anything and that's one of the best things about it...it unfolds gently, with humor and grace. By carmenmiranda

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