2019 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – WELL GROOMED
SPELLBOUND and THE KING OF KONG have spawned a familiar but fun sub-genre, the competition documentary. Various people, hopefully with outsized personalities, have high level skills at a unique, perhaps odd, craft and gear up for a big competition. WELL GROOMED is the latest in the long line, with the competition milieu being the world of creative dog grooming.
Creative dog grooming is an odd occupation. And the colorful visual nature of it makes WELL GROOMED always an interesting film to watch. Seeing a dog turned into a big horned sheep or a living, moving tableau for JURASSIC PARK or ALICE IN WONDERLAND is frequently delightful.
And the exclusively women who seem to excel in this sport all seem to be very nice and genuine. So nice and genuine, that there never seems to be much drama. Adriane Pope seems to be the center of the film, a South Carolinian mother with multiple dogs, a sweet as honey Southern accent, and perhaps a little need to prove herself. Her rival, although definitely not a villain, is Angela Kumpe, the reigning champion of creative grooming.
There are other groomers that we check in on, Cat Opson a west coast groomer who’s one of the best in the business at traditional cuts, and Nicole Beckman, a new, young, creative groomer who’s struggling to keep her small business going, in particular, but they figure to be on the outside of the competition. They’re all so nice, that it kind of leaves the film without a villain to root against. You’d be happy if anyone won, so that kind of cuts out any real stakes.
One thing that is very clear is that they all love their dogs. Their extremely patient dogs that apparently are comfortable with the extra attention they receive. I think there’s just a smidge of the groomers looking to draw a little attention to themselves amidst their denials, but I also think that these groomers genuinely love their dogs. There’s a heartbreaking scene where Adriane Pope has to bring her beloved elder dog to the vet for the last time and any artifice is gone except her genuine love and heartbreak.
I guess the big central question is whether creative grooming is art or not. To me, I think the film doesn’t interrogate that question enough. What’s the difference between art and craft? What are the judges actually grading on? Leaving the components and mechanics of the competition somewhat of a mystery is something of a misstep for me. And, if it is art, is it personal expressive art? Does it say anything? Yes, one can appreciate the craft of turning a dog into a chicken, but does that say anything about the groomer’s view of the world? The ascertains by the groomers that it is art, really only scratch the surface of what you could be discussing.
Same for the fact that the creative dog grooming world seems to be exclusively female. And they all seem to like each other. Is there something to be said about a female sport versus a male sport? Given a chance to dig deeper, the film never really takes that risk.
WELL GROOMED doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s certainly a pleasant experience. It’s colorful, the people involved seem nice and genuine, and it’s always a joy to see dogs on screen. It just doesn’t offer a lot more than that.
WELL GROOMED plays once more at the Milwaukee Film Festival on Monday, October 28th at 4:45 pm at the Rivoli Theatre. The 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from October 17, 2019 to October 31, 2019. Information and tickets can be found at Milwaukee Film’s website mkefilm.org.