Lawn Dogs

Lawn Dogs directed by John Duigan from a screenplay by Naomi Wallace
is the worst movie I have seen since Fried Green Tomatoes. It touches
reality at no point. Next to this piece of cinematic offal, Godzilla or
Deep Impact look like kitchen sink realism. I don’t mind the mindlessness
of such popcorn movies. They are usually good for a laugh or two, at least, and
they tell us a lot about the mind of Hollywood, so influential in the forming of
America’s youthful consciousness. But I really resent the time I have to spend
watching pretentious rubbish like Lawn Dogs. It is a movie with no
redeeming qualities whatsoever. It reminds me of socialist realist art from the
Stalinist era: relentless in its pitching of a “progressive” message, towards
the furtherance of which everything tends. It is rigged in every way, and has
nothing real to tell us about save for the emptiness of Naomi Wallace’s head.

The expertly odious Christopher McDonald plays the greedy and ambitious
father and the usually sympathetic Kathleen Quinlan plays the sluttish mother of
a dreadful little ten-year old brat called Devon Stocker, played by Mischa
Barton. Devon strikes up a friendship with Trent (Sam Rockwell), a poor white
trash type despised and looked down upon by all the residents of the wealthy
subdivision, Camelot Gardens, whose lawns he mows. Yet, what do you think?
Beneath that unpolished exterior there beats a sensitive heart. Devon, a natural
traitor to her class, sees at once that poor but honest Trent is superior to
people like her bourgeois daddy, who believes that “If poor people worked hard,
they could be rich like him.”

Not too surprisingly, Trent holds a different view. “The way I see it, you
got people who own lawns and people who mow them—and they’re never the
same people.” Actually, this is a perfect illustration of the fact that if Naomi
Wallace or John Duigan have ever lived among real American people they have done
so with their eyes firmly shut. In most of the country the people who own lawns
and the people who mow them are almost always the same people, but in
this marxisant fantasy world there is nothing in between the obscene and
offensive rich people and the dirt poor. “First our lawns and then our women,”
say the rich boys of Camelot Gardens, envious of Trent’s manly grace. So they
conspire to ruin him out of sheer spitefulness, as rich people often do to such
poor strivers.

Ruining him is a ridiculously easy thing to do, too, since all the poor
fellow has is his mowing equipment. He lives in a filthy trailer parked up in
the woods and sends all the money he earns to his equally poor but honest
parents, since his father is disabled—as it might be by tobacco or mining
companies but in fact by the federal government, who gave him some bad cheese
when he was a soldier in Korea—and his nugatory pension is paid by yet
another lot of rich “bastards.” More seriously, Trent’s friendship with Devon is
easily misconstrued as pedophilia (“People don’t just give away turtles,” says
mom suspiciously when Devon brings home a tortoise spared by Trent’s mower),
which gives the main lot of rich bastards an excuse to go after him with a

In typical artsy-fartsy fashion, the film makes frequent references to the
folk tale of Babi Yaga, the witch with iron teeth who is supposed to devour
children. Devon, being a postmodern sort of girl, instinctively knows that Babi
Yaga, with whom she is quick to identify the forest-dwelling Trent, is really a
sweetheart and not at all a paedophage. There is no fear of the other here. On
the contrary, the iron teeth (Trent cuts his finger while oiling his chainsaw
and Devon sucks the wound clean) are only used for noble purposes, while the
real enemies of childhood innocence and tranquility are mommy and daddy and all
the neighbors who pretend to be looking after her. The final scenes, in which
little Dev ends up protecting Babi Yaga against her own father at
gunpoint—followed by a bit of what is apparently meant to be “magic
realism”—are just too absurd for words

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