Where to begin? First, let's start with the title: It's brilliant.
What's so damned brilliant about it, you ask? Well, the movie's about a woman who risks her relationship by telling her fiancé that she once performed oral sex on a dog. Tell me that's not a clever title.
So there you have it. Those who find that premise too taboo for romantic comedy need read no further. But for anyone who likes their comedies dark, challenging and, yes, even inspiring, read on.
Bobcat Goldthwait can be awfully grating as a comedian, but he shows serious artistic cojones here as the writer and director of this story involving a woman who pays a price for a weird -- nay, very weird – momentary indiscretion involving her doggie, Rufus.
Amy (Desperate Housewives' Melinda Page Hamilton) is not a pervert, much less a buff of bestiality. She's really not sure why she did what she did as an 18-year-old college student. Perhaps reckless curiosity, maybe just boredom. Whatever the motive, the end result was the same. "Yes," Amy says in a wonderfully matter-of-fact voiceover, "in college, I blew my dog. ... It was just something completely stupid."
The incident, which is strongly hinted at in the movie's restrained but funny opening, weighs heavily on Amy years later when she gets engaged. Her fiancé, an aspiring writer named John (Bryce Johnson), says he wants a relationship of complete and utter honesty, assuring her that they can tell each other anything. Amy is skeptical -- and rightly so -- but to placate him she lies that she and her best friend, Linda (Morgan Murphy), had sex once in college. John is turned on.
John insists that she divulge yet more secrets while they are off visiting Amy's parents (Geoff Pierson and Bonita Friedericy). It is there that Amy, ostensibly the perfect daughter lovingly called "diamond girl" by her parents, tells John the truth. He is shocked and repulsed, and, to compound matters, her confession is overheard by her spiteful, methamphetamine-addled brother (Jack Plotnick).
Viewers expecting gross-out comedy will be sorely disappointed (despite a glowing blurb on the DVD case by none other than that avatar of tastelessness, John Waters). Sleeping Dogs Lie has its share of wicked humor -- it helps that pet pooches abound from scene to scene -- but its most impressive sleight of hand comes with its understanding of relationships and the emotional landmines they invariably entail.
When Amy later becomes romantically involved with a nice older guy (Colby French), she again must confront the question of where truthfulness ends and self-sabotage begins. But as Goldthwait wisely illustrates, honesty is not always the best policy. In fact, sometimes it can be downright idiotic. In Sleeping Dogs Lie, relationships thrive with the aid of a little misinformation; revealing secrets leads to pain, not greater intimacy.
While Goldthwait's writing is surprisingly nuanced, the movie ultimately hinges on a grounded performance by Melinda Page Hamilton. She brings shades of vulnerability and strength to a role that isn't particularly easy to pull off (and not just because the actress is asked to tongue-kiss a mutt in one fantasy sequence) When Amy finally tells John her secret, Hamilton imbues the moment with genuine warmth and heartbreak.
Sleeping Dogs Lie is not a visually arresting movie, but the print transfer is fine, with the only issue being minor grain in a few darkly lit scenes. The picture is in anamorphic widescreen, with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The movie is driven by dialogue, so neither the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround option nor the Dolby 2.0 Surround gets much of a workout. Subtitles are in English and Spanish.
Bobcat Goldthwait supplies an enthusiastic and likable commentary. He offers some fun anecdotes about the film's success at Sundance and other international film festivals, and he even shows the highfalutin' sense to make a Joseph Campbell joke.
In addition to a trailer for the film, the DVD includes previews for Caffeine, George and the Dragon, 10 Items or Less, Mr. Fix-It and Perfect Strangers.
Let me just repeat this lest there be any misunderstanding: We're talking about a movie in which a nice young woman blows her dog. It is impressive enough that Sleeping Dogs Lie is oddly relatable, funny and smart. It nearly defies belief that it also happens to be an ultimately moving slice of life.