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Because of Winn-Dixie
2005 - PG - 105 Mins.
Director: Wayne Wang
Producer: Trevor Albert
Written By: Joan Singleton
Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Eva Marie Saint, Dave Matthews, Cicely Tyson
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site: www.becauseofwinndixiemovie.com/
   

Dogs love reading... who knew?
A simple “girl and her dog” tale well-told, ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’ is a success on its own gentle terms and a welcome respite from the effects-driven family films that seem to be all the rage these days.

Wayne Wang is quite the versatile filmmaker it seems. Who else could go from helming a sexually explicit NC-17 drama (‘The Center of the World’) to a mainstream romantic comedy (‘Maid in Manhattan’) before going even softer with -- dare I say it -- a wholesome family drama, based on the bestselling novel by Kate DiCamillo. The story, simply put, concerns a motherless girl named Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) who comes across the titular mutt while at the equally titular grocery store, from which she gets the dog’s name. She has to beg but eventually her preacher father (Jeff Daniels) relents, allowing her to keep the dog in their trailer where they stay when the preacher isn’t conducting Sunday Mass at the local convenience store. It is through the dog that the once lonely girl begins to open her world to a wide variety of people, ranging from an ex-convict turned pet store owner (country singer Dave Matthews) to an elderly librarian (Eva Marie Saint) and, predictably enough, affecting change for all involved.

There’s no question that ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’ is going to be an acquired taste. It is told in the manner of an old-fashioned television serial from simpler times (i.e. “Lassie” and its ilk) and succeeds on its own innocent terms. This film is so innocent it makes December’s ‘Fat Albert’ and August’s ‘Benji: Off the Leash!’ look like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ by comparison. The film features a solid screenplay that doesn’t skimp over the issue of what happened to our human lead’s mother. Instead, it handles such issues with intelligently wrought dialogue that is entirely affecting and heartfelt. Director Wang punctuates such scenes with images that are meant to be inside Opal’s head that add to the already moving moments of tender delicacy. In fact, the film as a whole is refreshingly good-hearted without ever becoming sappy or melodramatic with the hard work of the cast paying dividends.

In her first feature film debut young AnnaSophia Robb is surprising in her ability to combine humor with drama. From scene to scene she ably contends with material that in the hands of an incapable young actor runs the risk of becoming just what the film is trying to avoid: melodrama. As her father, Jeff Daniels is also quite effective in his portrayal of a father who all too often finds himself at a loss concerning how to raise a child as a single parent. His relationship with Robb is so instantaneously believable and multi-layered that one wishes Daniels would appear in more films on the big screen instead of relegating himself to bit parts in TV movies such as last year’s “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” The rest of the cast is also up to the task with Dave Matthews showing more range than could be expected from a singer-turned-actor.

Sure, ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’ doesn’t tell a groundbreaking story but it utilizes an age-old template as a function of telling a story likely to be enjoyed by viewers of all ages.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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