It's only minutes into Hangdog that you fall in love with Walt (Desmin Borges, Private Life), an advertising guy who looks like he'd be right at home at your local half-assed comedy joint hanging out with the other depressed comics. He's relocated himself to Portland, Maine to please his partner, Wendy (Kelly O'Sullivan, Saint Frances), but he's struggling with smalltown life and practically everyone who lives it.
While she heads back to the big city for work, Wendy tasks him with watching over Tony, the adorable little pooch he also agreed to get because it would make Wendy happy.
There isn't a moment of Hangdog that isn't enjoyable. Walt's life is thrown into chaos when Tony disappears while Walt's visiting a local weed joint, a happening that sends Walt on a three-day journey through the streets of Portland that he's tried desperately to avoid and face-to-face with those smalltown folks he's similarly tried to not encounter face-to-face like Catherine Curtin's delightful Buffy, Barbara Rosenblat's spot-on perfect Marianne, and other ensemble players like Steve Coulter, Jay Dunigan and a host of others.
Hangdog is already proving to be quite successful on the indie fest circuit with a world premiere at Provincetown International Film Festival and an Audience Award prize at New Hampshire Film Festival. The film has also been listed on Letterboxd's "Ones to Watchlist."
Hangdog is one to watch.
There are a myriad of people to credit for Hangdog's success. It starts, of course, with Matt Cascella's intuitive and insightful direction that beautifully captures the film's Portland locale and also refuses to ever turn Walt into some hapless caricature. The script, co-written by Cascella with Jen Cordery, is part rom-com, part mystery, and all character-driven moments of life with all its comedy and drama and joy and sorrow. Cascella and Cordery capture the little moments, human connections made and human connections re-established.
I may have laughed and cried in the film's closing moments.
Okay. Okay. I did. I did laugh and cry in the film's closing moments.
While he's not tasked with carrying the film, Borges is a revelation as Walt with a performance that captures a zillion reasons why you wouldn't like Walt and yet you absolutely keep loving him. He's funny and sad and sad and funny. He's a much better guy than he ever realizes and yet, moment by moment, we get to bear witness to his slowly realizing he's a pretty awesome dude.
As Wendy, Kelly O'Sullivan also does some pretty amazing work. We adore her even in the moments when it seems she likes Tony more than Walt. She and Walt are adorable together, yet it's the kind of adorable that comes out of acknowledged quirks, vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and conscious decisions.
Of course, this is to some degree a journey film and the Maine locals who fill the screen are a blast to watch. There's never a time, at least not one that I've seen, when Catherine Curtin doesn't make a film better. The same is true here. Catherine Curtin enters the scene and suddenly life feels right again.
That's just the way it is.
Barbara Rosenblat is an absolute gem here with a closing moment that feels just right. Matthew Delameter and Robert Hadlock also deserve some kudos here.
Again, strong ensemble.
The original music by Walter Martin is a wonderful complement to the emotional rhythms of this often funny, emotionally honest film. Nathan Golon's lensing capitalizes on the natural beauty of Portland and the journey of a guy learning to appreciate it.
Hangdog is less about the out loud laughs and more about finding the quiet humor of everyday life. There's not a false note played here and the end result is a quiet little gem that will hopefully find just the perfect home with an indie distributor that takes the time to nurture it to a wider audience.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic