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"Because of Winn-Dixie"

Directed by Wayne Wang ("The Joy Luck Club", "Maid in Manhattan").
Written by Joan Singleton.  Based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo.
Starring AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson and Dave Matthews.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  2/28/05


Hey, I gotta keep it real every so often, so why not catch a family film?  The trailer for "Because of Winn-Dixie" was cute, so I figured why the heck not.

The film, based on a novel by Kate DiCamillo, is about a little girl named IndiaOpal Baloney (played by newcomer AnnaSophia Robb).  Right there, two minutes into the movie, I was convinced just the girl's name was going to drive me insane, but luckily everyone refers to her as Opal, so I cleared the first hurdle without too much difficulty.  Opal, the daughter of a traveling preacher (Jeff Daniels) in Florida, doesn't have any friends in her new town...until she goes shopping at the local Winn-Dixie grocery store and her life changes forever.  That's because she is nearly run over by an unowned dog in the produce section; she takes the dog home after naming him after the store where he was found and an intense canine-human friendship is born.

Wayne Wang, who directed "The Joy Luck Club", keeps the proceedings brisk and the down-home pokeyness of the characters invigorating for city-dwellers (more correctly, suburban-city dwellers) like myself.  Robb has the requisite cute eyes and innocence, but after you've seen Dakota Fanning work, you recognize second-fiddle child actresses fast...and, Robb gives you the feeling she is saying lines, as opposed to really feeling the things she is saying.  This is hard to explain, but when you see "Because of Winn-Dixie", something just feels slightly off about the little girl's work, and maybe that's because it feels like work, as opposed to just feeling natural.  Dave Matthews, who seems to have a fairly successful music career according to my sources, is actually pretty good as a local pet shop manager and former criminal; he looks like a natural in this environment, as do the other supporting adult performers, like Daniels, Cicely Tyson (gotta be 100 by now!), and Eva Marie Saint as a local librarian.  It was just that little girl.

But, man, that dog more than makes up for it.  The dog is great, great in ways that made me think of Lassie from so long ago...but, the greatest thing about the dog is the smile effect, which I'm still trying to figure out.  Was it real?  Was it CGI?  Was it my imagination?  I don't know, but dammit, that dog really WAS smiling at us in the audience every so often and the effect is just damned cool.  Granted, I wasn't going to be giving any of my guy friends high-fives after the dog did the smile thing...still, it would have been cool to be sitting with my unborn children and high-fivin' each one after Winn-Dixie breaks out the doggie grin periodically.  Thanks to the pet store, we get other pets who are allowed to shine; a parrot here, a billy goat know, all the fixins.

"Because of Winn-Dixie" was a nice ride, even if it does ride for a bit too long.  AnnaSophia Robb's performance did bug me in the early going, but by the end of the film it was all good and it made me all warm and fuzzy inside.  No ManTears, though...don't worry, I haven't completely sold out.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09