Thursday, September 20, 2018

Pick of the Litter

Long day at work on Wednesday, so a movie about puppies seemed like just what the doctor ordered. Shame that MoviePass was being a problem that evening, because if it's only good for three movies a month, it had better work those three times. I can shrug off it not working when I'm getting ten movies out of it, but if this might have been my only ticket, that's not so cool.

So maybe that's why I was kind of looking askance at this one, a bit - you can read the review and think I'm some sort of extremist who doesn't think humans should use animals for anything, but that's not the case at all; I particularly love service animals, and though I joke about how a nearly-blind co-worker seemed to really trust his dogs when walking in the middle of the street with his Walkman on one winter, that's 80% amazement that he really can trust his dogs like that. Still, as filmmaking goes, if you're going to make a movie about puppies becoming guide dogs, hiding all the training behind cuts kind of makes it look like there's something to hide.

Makes for a kind of bougie movie, with that perhaps reinforced in my head a bit by the trailer package that played before it, which was all previews for documentaries about artists and actresses, all of which seem more reassuring than enlightening.

Pick of the Litter is getting a second week, though it will be splitting a screen with something else. Not bad for a movie that is apparently already playing on demand.

Pick of the Litter

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

The description for Pick of the Litter talks about following five puppies on "their quest to become guide dogs", but it's important to remember that they're puppies; if they have a quest, it's for scratches on their heads and treats in their bellies, with scratches on their bellies also very welcome. It can sometimes make for an odd experience for the audience, as it can sometimes be hard to keep one's eyes on the long-term goal.

It starts with five Labrador puppies being born at the Guide Dogs for the Blind kennel. Given a set of alliterative names - Potomac, Patriot, Phil, Primrose, and Poppet, they'll spend the first two months of their lives at the kennel before being farmed out to volunteer puppy-raisers, who will do some training but mostly help the dogs get used to being around people. At about 16 months, those who have not been weeded out of the program - only about 300 of the 800 GBD puppies born in a year make it all the way to being guides - will return to the kennel for more advanced training. If they pass their tests at the end of that time, they will be matched with visually-impaired people like Janet (whose third dog has recently retired) and Ronald (blind since birth and looking to live a more active life).

It's a testament to the skill of the filmmakers that Pick of the Litter often winds up just the right amount of disconcerting, in that it will often show how wonderful it is that dogs are bright and adorable and energetic while the story being told is of how guide dogs are, in a way, manufactured, with a rigid process that pulls some out to be breeders and makes every bond for the first two years of these dogs' lives temporary and oriented to a measured, serious end. It's absurd enough to talk about dogs being "career changed" that you almost root for them proving to be bad guide dogs: Go sniff those other dogs' butts, Potomac! You're still a good boy even if this organization decides you're not cut out for a job you never asked for!

Full review at EFC.

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