Last night we watched Lawn Dogs. There were some very strong performances from Sam Rockwell and Mischa Barton (she was ten, I think it was her first major role), some very well-done sequences, but a lot that Just.Didn’t.Work. Something about the tone felt wrong — powerful, but wrong — and it was only after I looked at imdb afterward that I realized why.
The screenplay was by Naomi Wallace (link is to a long and fascinating interview). She’s predominantly known as a playwright, and the problem, as far as I was concerned, is that the production should have been on stage. Why? Because just about every line of her dialogue is designed to call your assumptions into question and catch you off balance. I don’t think Hollywood movies are good at that sort of interrogation of the viewer. Hollywood doesn’t usually want the viewer to see herself as complicit. I have a friend (not on lj) who’s directed Naomi Wallace’s work. I’m writing this post half to remind myself to ask her, the next time we see each other, if she’s seen the movie too, and if she agrees.
Addendum: I’ve never seen the O.C., but I know that Mischa Barton’s famous now partially because of it. After watching her for two hours or so as a ten-year-old, the results that came up when I Googled her were…disconcerting.
Second addendum: one thing that makes Lawn Dogs such a tense viewing experience is the friendship between Mischa Barton’s character and Sam Rockwell’s. In this culture, intergenerational friendships are often looked on with suspicion, to say the least. Coincidentally, today I read a post from danah boyd’s excellent blog that outlines some reasons why that’s shortsighted and damaging.