Thursday, March 14, 2019

Movie Review: "Well Groomed" (SXSW 2019)

Director: Rebecca Stern
Year: 2019
Rating: UR
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

A look at the strange, colorful world of competitive creative dog grooming.

Well Groomed 2019 SXSW documentary movie still Adriane Pope washing her dog
"It's definitely a window into a different world, an artistic outlet."
(Image provided by David Magdael and Associates, Inc)
If director Christopher Guest happened to be looking for a topic for his next film, competitive creative dog grooming wouldn't be a bad choice, though even he may have a difficult time parodying something as outlandish as this competition. "Well Groomed" is a documentary directed by Rebecca Stern. It takes a look at the somewhat unusual world of creative dog grooming. It is a process that involves shaving elaborate designs into dogs' coats and dyeing their fur with striking, vibrant colors to create an aesthetic that includes scenery, other animals, or even characters from movies. This feature focuses mainly on the journey of four groomers. Adriane Pope is a groomer from Arkansas who has been competing for a while and is on a quest to "place" at the Hershey Groom Expo, which is described as "the Super Bowl of creative dog grooming." Adriane's fiercest competition is her friend and rival Angela Kumpe, who has won first place in numerous shows. Angela has a business teaching the practice of creative grooming, and she also sells doggie hair dyes and canine accessories. The film also follows Nicole Beckman from Ithica, New York, who has just opened her own grooming business and is getting her feet wet when it comes to the more artistic side of dog grooming. Finally, Cat Opson from Dana Point, California has competed in both traditional grooming and creative grooming competitions, although she may be close to giving up on the creative side of things.
Well Groomed 2019 SXSW documentary movie still Nicole Beckman washing her dog
"It's an adrenaline rush for me."
(Image provided by David Magdael and Associates, Inc)
"Well Groomed" is not the kind of documentary that will have mass appeal because it is a very niche subject not many people know and/or care about. Not even all dog lovers will get behind this feature since creative dog grooming is, believe it or not, a controversial subject. Many people view creative dog grooming as a way for an owner to garner attention for themselves at the expense of their pets. Some of the fiercest critics of creative grooming see little benefit for the dog to be subjected to such a task, and some believe that the dyes used could even cause long term damage to the dog's skin or fur. Of course, being in support of the practice, director Rebecca Stern tries her best to ease these concerns by showing the extensive research that goes into providing for the safety of the dogs as hair dyes are often non-toxic and are gentle on dog coats. Some veterinarians even seem to endorse the practice of creative grooming because the dogs love and adore the added attention, pets, happiness, and treats it brings them.

We're sort of 50/50 about our thoughts on creative dog grooming and aren't too sure what to think about it. None of the dogs featured in this film look like they are in pain or seem to hate the process of what their owners do to them to get them ready for expos and shows. In fact, all of the dogs owned by Pope, Kumpe, Opson, and Beckman appear to be extremely well trained, abide by the commands of their owners and aren't too high-strung. We doubt we would ever dye our dogs' hair or groom them creatively, but that has more to do with the fact that they can hardly sit still for 10 minutes long enough for us to wash them. We have to admit, there is a lot of artistic talent behind most of the designs these women make throughout "Well Groomed." The work they do on their dogs comes out adorable and damn impressive most of the time, though some of the designs occasionally wound up looking pretty ridiculous. The fact that Pope made an entire "Alice in Wonderland" motif based around Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter is something that will make you smile and laugh, though whether or not the latter is a good thing is debatable. At the end of the film, we walked away with the knowledge that competitive creative dog grooming is a practice one must do out of passion because the cost of competing is obviously a lot greater than any prize one might win doing so. When the top prize of "the Super Bowl of dog shows" is a mere $2,500 bucks, you've got to wonder if the time and effort is worth it. At one point, Opson claims she spent $25,000 on travel and supplies to attend various dog grooming competitions over one year. One year. That's madness! We figured the prizes would be more than a couple thou, easy.
Well Groomed 2019 SXSW documentary movie still Adriane Pope and her dogs
"In a lot of ways, I care more about dogs than I do about people."
(Image provided by David Magdael and Associates, Inc)
As far as the technical aspects go, "Well Groomed" might be put together rather basically, but it does a great job creating an intriguing narrative about these specific groomers. The film explores this little known subject well, though it doesn't go above and beyond anything we would consider standard documentary fare. In the end, dog lovers with open minds might be interested to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to competitive creative grooming, and this film a good place to start.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~5.0/10
RT Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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