I’m going to put aside the fact that I’m questioning my life choices right now and just accept that I’m watching A Dogwalker’s Christmas Tale at three o’clock on a Monday morning in the middle of July. The film is terrible. So is the title. The script reads like a reject from a fanfiction club. The movie is a love song to dogs and dog parks with only an occasional nod to Christmas, and I like exactly one of those things.
I also tend to dismiss offhand anything that is part of UP network’s Christmas lineup. UP, the channel that specializes in wholesome family programming, makes the Hallmark Channel look like Masterpiece Theatre (yes, even you, Hats Off to Christmas). ADCT has some redeeming qualities, but it is comically, relentlessly optimistic. Before the opening credits begin, Luce (Lexi Giovagnoli), our chief dogwalker, leaps out of bed with eyes wide open. She’s the kind of girl who sleeps with her makeup on so that she can get a jump start on life, at least she does if it’s five days before Christmas. Dean (Jonathan Bennett), a dog lover and a college student practicing his veterinary skills on the sly, also remains suspiciously upbeat even after he finds out that his dog park clinic will be bulldozed to make way for a luxury spa.
Both lead actors remind me of other people. I kept mistaking Giovagnoli for a perky, wide-eyed Melanie Lynskey, which is fine because I love Melanie Lynskey. This endeared me somewhat to her character, despite the fact that the Luce is a poster child for privileged rich white girl. I almost stopped the movie after a few minutes when Luce and her friends skip into a jewelry store though; they’re buying matching necklaces for some Christmas party while she has just maxed out her parents’ credit card to buy a nice watch for her boyfriend of three months. Bennett, on the other hand, is not so lucky in this department. I kept seeing pharma bro Martin Shkreli, apologies to Bennett and fans of Mean Girls.
In fairness, the plot is no worse than anything you’ve seen before on UP. There’s conflict of the existential and the romantic sort. Will the dog park meet its end? Does this mean one of the dog walkers will regain the hundred pounds she lost? Can lonely dog walker woman find true love without her canine matchmaker? Will Dean find out who Luce really works for? It all ends predictably, that is to say happily. You just have to watch a circus of amateurs tumbling around in order to get there.
ADCT lacks nuanced acting and writing, of course. I mean, the reason why dog-hating Luce is walking dogs is because she has no money and her parents are off doing some charity gig in Botswana, leaving her and her little brother alone for Christmas. She seems nonchalant about it, but this arrangement seems like a big deal and Luce probably needs to talk to someone about it. But fine, go walk them dogs.
Having forfeited an hour and a half, however, I will commend the movie for its characterization of Missy, Luce’s boss and husband of dog park killer. I expected her to be a one note ninny, and she is for most part. But she also surprises by being a decent person when called upon and by standing by Luce when the easy thing would have been to pit the two women against each other.
Dir: Letia Clouston
Writer: Jake Helgren
Cast: Jonathan Bennett, Lexi Giovagnoli, Dina Meyer, Patrick Muldoon, Jennifer Joseph
Time: 86 min
Country: United States