An ambitious – if nothing else – tale this week from triple threat Marianna Palka.
A woman snaps and assumes the psyche of a vicious dog as her checked-out, philandering husband attempts to keep the family together.
TW: Suicide attempt
Jill (Palka) is having a time of it. Stay at home mum to a handful of kids and the wife of a philandering bastard – she’s HAD ENOUGH – and we open the movie with her attempted suicide. Honestly, this scene doesn’t hold back and as Jill momentarily dangles from a light fixture, attached to her husband’s leather belt, it’s hard to continue watching.
It’s an unsuccessful attempt of course which leads Jill in a different direction altogether, the unique premise of this movie – but it’s desperately sad. Here is a woman on the edge and nobody’s helping, least of all husband Bill (Jason Ritter), who’s more concerned with going down on his lover in his office and being mostly checked out of family life. Jill begs her husband to let her go on an art retreat – something he poo poos as it will take her away from the kids for too long – to which she admits she’s scared of what she’ll do if she doesn’t get help soon.
Needless to say this plea falls on deaf ears. It’s only when she finally snaps and seemingly disappears, that the family start to take note. Although in fairness, eldest daughter Tiffany (the excellently named Brighton Sharbino) has tuned in, albeit a little late.
Bill is forced – finally – to confront his domestic responsibilities, which are a disaster obviously, as he realises he knows little about his children, their schools and ultimately any of their basic needs. When Jill is finally located it’s by the kids who at first find amusement in the fact that she’s acting like a dog. They return to find her clothing shed in the kitchen, piss and shit all over the tiles. This bitch ain’t house-trained.
Jill has retired to the basement and, newly canine, isn’t to be approached. Bill is enraged and personally affronted by the audacity of his selfish wife. He calls on the support of her sister Beth (Jaime King) who sweeps in to survey the damage. It soon becomes clear this is the result of a total mental breakdown and to begin it seems like Beth is the only one willing to seek help for her sister.
Bit by bit however, Bill has no choice but to get it together. The children need more from their largely absent father and he obliges, eventually accommodating Jill’s new status – and picking out suitable toys for her at the pet store.
Can he ever make up for his indiscretions and worse, his total lack of care for his long-suffering wife?
This is a funny one because the tone is all over the place. It starts very sombrely indeed and goes for a slight comedy vibe afterwards but it never quite gets there. While the kids are bemused by the canine activity, which makes sense in their confusion, the seriousness of a mental breakdown is hard to make light of. I think we’re supposed to be amused by Bill’s initial fuck ups but even that’s just sad, if you ask me.
I didn’t hate this, in fact from the moment her husband bites down on a dog chew in the pet store to make sure it’s suitable for his wife’s needs, I started to come around. I just wanted it to have more of a bite.
My other criticism is that this ultimately ends up being more about Bill’s redemption, than Jill. We don’t see or interact with her nearly enough. I wanted this to be all about her and it wasn’t.
The custody battle between Bill and Jill’s family is heartbreaking, particularly as he admits to some of his worst failings but again, his arc should have been secondary to Jill’s journey.
The ending is sweet but a little wet. I get it’s about acceptance but boy, did I want more for our doggy heroine.