tek's rating: meh and a half

Hounddog (R)
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First of all, I hesitate to include this in the "coming of age" section, but... well, as I said on the section's index page, I'm not entirely sure what the term means, but it can mean different things to different people (characters, that is). And this film certainly covers not just a single incident that represents the main character's transition into adulthood, but rather a time in her life throughout which she's making that transition. That said, this movie is frequently referred to as "The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie," which is perhaps unfair. The scene in question is undoubtedly the most significant event of the story, but... it's also a relatively small part of the movie. Still, knowing that's going to happen, going into the movie, makes it impossible not to be constantly wondering when it's going to happen, and who's going to do it. That wondering rather taints the viewer's perception of everything and everyone.

Anyway, Fanning plays 12-year-old Lewellen, and in the first scene, we see her promising a boy named Buddy a kiss, if, you know, he shows her.... Ahem. Yes, clearly, the transition is already underway. I should mention this is set in the American South, in the 1950s, and there are any number of things about the movie which might be interpreted as cliches of that time and place. Anyway, we soon learn that her father is abusive, and she tells Buddy she's going to kill her father someday... though before long, it becomes clear that she's very attached to him. Her mother is dead, though it's not clear to me if she ever really knew her or not. In the present, she lives with her father and her grandmother (her mother's mother). Her father has recently taken up with a woman named Ellen (Robin Wright Penn), who is unfamiliar to Lewellen, though later in the movie, we learn something about her which... I don't want to spoil, but it does cast a slightly new light on things.

Anyway. Lewellen is a fan of Elvis Presley, and often sings his songs (mostly "Hound Dog," hence the title), though her grandmother disapproves of that "Devil music." Lewellen doesn't seem to have many friends besides Buddy, probably because she's so poor. Eventually she and Buddy befriend a rich girl called Grasshopper, but throughout the film we see her also spending some time with a Black man named Charles, from whom she learns various things, such as that the music Elvis made famous was first sung by Black artists. There's also a lot of snakes around where they all live, some of them poisonous, and Charles seems to know a lot about that. (It sometimes seemed to me a ridiculously dangerous place for anyone to be living, in one scene in particular.) In any event, Buddy eventually found out Elvis was going to be coming to town, and Lewellen wanted to get a ticket. He promised her he'd find a way to get her a ticket... She was hoping to sing for him, hoping he'd take her away from all her problems, including something that eventually happened to her father, which... I don't want to spoil, but it made things worse for her.

Anyway, there were any number of scenes throughout the movie where I couldn't help wondering, as I mentioned early on, if... well, and then it didn't happen. But, finally, the scene comes, and it's unmistakable that it's about to happen, and it was... related to an earlier scene. When it finally happens, it's fairly brief, not at all graphic, but of course deeply traumatic. Everything changes for Lewellen after that. And she lost what few friends she had, but for one, who eventually helps her break out of... the state that the incident put her in. Sort of. And... ultimately there's... the possibility of... eh, something. I dunno. I'll be honest, there isn't much in this movie that's particularly hopeful in any way. But... I suppose there's a kind of hope. Maybe. Things could change. I dunno what else to tell you. It's not a bad movie, but it's not pleasant, either. That's all....

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