Four Dogs: LAFF Review

Four Dogs Film Still - H 2013

Four Dogs Film Still - H 2013

Simplicity is a virtue in this whimsical comedic drama.

Multi-hyphenate Joe Burke’s first feature, a slacker comedy, world premiered in competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Slacker comedy gets a new best bud with Four Dogs, an amiable shaggy-mutt story that represents a promising calling card for director Joe Burke and co-writer and star Oliver Cooper. VOD and even a niche theatrical run could follow what’s likely to be a sustained festival run following the LAFF world premiere.

Having arrived in Southern California without a job and with no particular prospects, twenty-something Oliver (Oliver Cooper) has moved in with his Aunt Becca (ReBecca Goldstein), a flight attendant who’s often away from her Encino home. So Oliver somewhat sporadically takes on some of the household chores, including cleaning the pool and walking her four dogs. Otherwise he pretty much just hangs around the house, getting high, listening to music and improbably role-playing scenes from some of his favorite movies.

Hanging out with his struggling-actor buddy Dan (Dan Bakkedahl), who’s twice his age but no more ambitious, adds a bit of variety to his routine – dining out at an Indian restaurant, driving aimlessly around the Valley, lounging by Becca’s pool, visiting Oliver’s pot dealer and attending an ill-fated birthday party at the home of an acting classmate that Dan’s seriously crushing on.

Life gets a bit more interesting with the arrival of Diane (Kathleen McNearney), a friend of Becca’s who’s visiting L.A. for a conference and staying with her for a few days, in a room across the hall from Oliver. At least a decade older and frequently distracted by acrimonious phone calls discussing her impending divorce from her husband, Diane doesn’t pay Oliver much attention, until the stress of her personal life prompts her to cut loose with him at the party of Dan’s friend, with unexpected results.

Despite a fairly flat story arc and a limited cast, co-writers Cooper and director Burke have created sympathetic, relatable characters willing to reveal more foibles than virtues. Cooper is particularly endearing as the directionless Oliver, burdened with the motivational and career challenges shared by millions of contemporary college-age kids. Bakkedahl’s sad-sack character, on the verge of being washed up before even experiencing a glimmer of success, reflects a familiar entertainment stereotype without exaggerated desperation or bitterness.  

Burke reveals the meandering action in frequently fixed master shots, notable more for their casual clutter than for deliberate blocking. Allowing developments to play out across the frame at an unhurried pace without forced humor or false sentiment effectively captures the confusion and enervation so often besetting the characters, with the final scenes providing a crucial, subtle shift in perspective.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Cast: Oliver Cooper, Dan Bakkedahl, Kathleen McNearney, ReBecca Goldstein
Director: Joe Burke
Screenwriters: Joe Burke, Oliver Cooper
Producers: Joe Burke, Oliver Cooper
Director of photography: Todd Banhazl
Music: Michael Saig, J.J. Reed
Editor: Joe Burke
Sales: Traction Media
No rating, 80 minutes