John Duigan's 1997 modern fable is set in a gated community populated by just exactly the sort of people you'd expect to find in such a place: dull, overly concerned with image and "getting on"; uncaring about the outside world. One young girl Devon Stockard (Mischa Barton) is the unfortunate offspring of a pair of particularly false-fronted parents.Her dad cares for nothing more than making the right impression in the right circles at whatever familial cost, her ultra-respectable mother is boffing one of the estate's youths at every opportunity. But Devon is made of stronger and weirder stuff than most; she rebels in any small way she can and strikes up an unlikely friendship with one of the "lawn dogs" of the title, played by Sam Rockwell. A lawn dog is simply someone who mows your lawn, for anyone who hadn't worked it out.
Barton's performance is strong and confident, far above her tender years at the time the film was made; Rockwell provides a highly plausible and understated portrayal of down-trodden poverty in the face of wealth all around him. It's fair to say that the central performances in what is essentially a two-hander stand up well to scrutiny.
Frankenkeith summed up the initial feeling amongst Film Club as we watched this slice of Hollywood - after last week's grim violence, he thought we'd deliberately selected a sort of Pollyanna story. It certainly seemed that way for the first hour or so.Things turn darker as the narrative develops; a few of the gated community dwellers turn out to be genuinely unpleasant (not an unexpected plot twist, it must be said) and Duigan manages to turn in a gripping, if not entirely original, climax.
The overall feeling over the crisps and copious quantities of wine after we'd watched this one was that it resembles nothing so much as Tim Burton's classic Edward Scissorhands, only not quite as good. There's a little girl rebelling against suburban "normality", an inarticulate outsider whom she befriends, there's bullies aplenty. The central message of the film seems to be more or less identical, but the vision of the film lacks Burton's eye for the ridiculous and the surreal.
Ignore anyone who tells you this is a deep and meaningful fable, it's a decent enough film which doesn't do quite enough to lift itself above the level of amusing entertainment. There are hundreds of worse ways to spend a couple of hours in front of the box, but there are quite a lot of much better ones too.