"You ain't nothin' but a hounddog, [u]been snoopin' round my door![/u]" If she was still alive, I'd imagine Big Mama Thorton would be cryin' all the time, because hardly anyone remembers that she was the first person to actually do "Hound Dog", and you better believe that they brought that up in this film, seeing as how it's set in Thorton's and my beloved Alabama, though specifically at an era of Alabama that I'm not especially proud of. Ironic how we finally get a major reminder of the original "Hound Dog", and yet, no one ended up seeing the film, though I can't say I'm too surprised, because I'm a bit thrown off by a certain other something that this film brings up with brutal honest. Poor Dakota Fanning, at only 12, was really trying to establish herself as one hardcore serious actress, and yet, hardly anyone saw this film, and almost all of the people who did, in fact, see it said that it was terrible, while just about "every" single person who saw it couldn't shut up about "that" scene (It's a mega-spoiler, so either watch the film or look it up, you dirty cheaters), even though it wasn't even a minute long and only showed Fanning's horrified face. Granted, it's still really, really messed up that they got a 12-year-old to do a scene like that, and plus, the scene itself is still about as harsh as it can be as a face-shot, so either way, I think that we can all agree that this film stands as yet another awesome testament to how the indie industry is filled with the audacious, or at least creeps, because it does seem as though the only types of experimental methods they do in the indie film industry are of either this film's notorious scene's certain nature or a boringly lyrical and borderline storyless nature. As much as these filmmaking "experiments" go explored, you'd think that they would ironically be too overused to actually be experimental, and yet it seems like every year there are more than a few crazy kids who come up with a new, more messed up way of milking these experiments for all their worth, with this film being ultimately "an" exception, because even with its, well, pretty, or at least relatively considerably tamed certain scene, this is not much more than the same-old-same-old. Eh, whatever, this is still a pretty decent film, yet make no mistake, regardless of how everyone makes it seem, "that" notorious scene wasn't the critics' only complaint, and lord knows that it's not my only complaint either.
Not a whole lot in the way of narrative focus can be found, for although this film isn't, well, that other type of experimental indie filmmaking that I mentioned earlier, where it drifts along quietly and lyrically, it goes bloated by filler, as well as plot points that string too organically together, to the point dissipating build, and by extension, intrigue after a while. It doesn't help that the film is not only steady in structure, but in atmosphere, being surprisingly not being all that dull, yet still not too terribly far away from that point, as it limps along dryly with little bite and limited livliness in the atmosphere, rarely, if ever to where you're left all that bored, yet decidedly to where it's easy to fall out of the film, as it tends to drag its feet a bit too much, both in story structure and atmospheric execution. Again, the film doesn't limp along quite as much as I expected it to, though pull back on the sighs of relief, as this film still stands to pick up the pace a bit, which is no more than what you can say about a lot of southern-gothic indie dramas of this type, and therein lays yet another complaint, as this film is nothing if not faithful to its type, in that it plummets into many story tropes and conventions within this genre that have been done to death, which of course makes the film predictable, as well as supplementary to the limiting of the film's intrigue and subtlety, both of which are pretty limited to begin with. Now, the consensus describes the film as "overwrought" and "downright exploitative", and really, I wouldn't say that this film is nearly that unsubtle, or even all that ceaselessly unsubtle to begin, as its tackling of plot points that could go the way of either subtle or unsubtle is an event that is surprisingly in short supply. However, while the film is never anything along the lines of "exploitative" in its unsubtlety, when we do hit those either hit or miss moments of potentially subtle dramatic depth - whether it be the struggles of David Morse's Lou character or "that" notorious scene -, the film slips up, not quite taking all that major of a plunge into the essence of the drama, but instead laying down more cliches and even a bit of sentimentality, leaving the dramatic note to miss more than hit, and never hit as hard as the should when they do connect. To my surprise, the story to this film doesn't seem terribly worthy, partially because we've seen it all done before, and done better, so it's not like there's a whole lot to be disappointed with, yet the film does stand to hit harder, preferably while heading in a different direction. However, at the end of the day, the film is, at least to me, far from the disaster critics claim it to be, for although the film is much too considerably flawed to reward, I found it to be a generally enjoyable watch, partially because "that" notorious scene comes in late and is actually relatively tamed quite a bit, and largely because the film isn't without its fair share of strengths.
This film is so conventional that even its should-be unique cinematography looks familiar, yet at least I remember this type of cinematography as good-looking, so sure enough, Jim Denault provides depth in the film's coloring, giving it an attractive livliness, married with a degree of dramatic bleakness, to supplement the tone of the story, and there is plenty of depth, or at least potential depth in the story to supplement. Again, this story is a highly conventional one, and one that's not even all that terribly worthy to begin with, though it remains a compelling tale whose concept on paper is better than this film's execution, yet remains nevertheless compelling enough to where there is a degree of immediate intrigue. The structure and execution of the story isn't strong enough to fully flesh out this intrigue, yet that moderate engagement value remains consistently workmanlike, holding a certain charm about that's actually ameloriated by much of the filler, which may slow down the bite of the substance, but still gives us enough of a chance to bond with these characters and their stories, maybe not as much as we should, yet still enough for the film to not lose you too often. Director, writer and co-producer Deborah Kampmeier's ambition is palpable, though perhaps too much so, to the point of creating overambition that hazes her good intentions, which were already hurt from the get-go by the film's being so highly conventional and sometimes unsubtle, yet the fact of the matter is that Kampmeier has her heart in this film, and firmly enough for it to maybe not hit nearly as much as it should, yet still have a charm and reasonable degree of spirit to it, elevated by the charming performances within the reasonably strong cast, from which at least two standouts emerge as particularly strong, or at least when they have something to do. David Morse feels rather underused, and when does arrive, the writing and direction of the film restrains the effectiveness of Morse's performance by either giving Morse surprisingly little to do or giving Morse some of the film's most sentimental material, which makes light of his Lou characters' situations as a struggling loving father, alcoholic and, eventually, victim an unfortunate and life-altering accident. However, where Morse could have succumb to the not-so-competent filmmaking and come off as too artificial as a hardly all that necessary supporting character, he ultimately triumphs and transcends his retraints, conveying the love and pain of the Lou character, particularly once the accident occurs and presents Morse something of an acting challenge, which he manages to pull off more believably than the script establishes it to be. Morse helps in giving this film some life and steals the show when given the opportunity, much like the also underused yet notably immensely charming Afemo Omilami as the generic wise and mystical black man (Like I said, this film gets really cliche), yet at the end of the day, this is Dakota Fanning's show, and she holds her own as well as you would expect her to, being given only so much material to work with, yet boasting a consistent presence of both strength and innocence that makes our primary Lewellen character a charming one, while the more emotional moments in Fanning's performances carry this film's dramatic weight, maybe too far, considering the lack of punch in the script and direction, but far enough for the film to engage and for Fanning to offer further evidence of her talent, particularly during the final act that succeeds "that" notorious scene and presents Fanning with more material, which she uses to make the final act of the film reasonably moving, even if it does get to be a bit manipulative, which isn't to say that Fanning isn't consistently strong enough to carry a film this flawed and help in making it reasonably enjoyable to those willing to stick with it through all of the faults in the execution of its ambition.
Overall, the film pulls the old southern-gothic indie drama trick of limping along with a draggy and not too comfortably structured storyline, made worse by the slowness that may not be terribly severe, yet remains as present here as it is in many other films of this type, which isn't to say that the conventions end there, as the film collapses into trope after trop and establishes predictability, further pronounced by the lack of subtlety that helps in making this film an underwhelming one, yet hardly the disaster many claim it to be, as it is well-shot enough to catch your eye, with a story that may be conventional and not especially well-told, yet remains strong enough in concept to reasonably charm when it needs to most and have some degree of flesh-out, made all the more effective by the charming performances, the strongest of which being by a show-stealing David More and show-owning Dakota Fanning, who carries "Hounddog" and helps in making it a watchable coming-of-age tale, even if it has been done time and time again, and typically better.
2.5/5 - Fair