The Truth About Cats & Dogs
directed by Michael Lehmann
(20th Century Fox, 1996)

There is one fundamental problem which prevents The Truth About Cats & Dogs from being one of the best romantic comedies of the 1990s.

The movie casts Uma Thurman as Noelle Slusarsky, a bubbleheaded model whose good looks earn her the constant attention of every guy she stumbles into. She meets and becomes best friends with Dr. Abby Barnes, a veterinary radio talk-show host (played by Janeane Garofola) who is supposed to be smart and talented but too ugly to get a date. The two friends compete for the affections of photographer Brian (Ben Chaplin), who falls in love with Garofola's radio personality but is led to believe that Thurman is the face (and body) behind the voice.

The problem here is the casting. Thurman is a gorgeous and talented actress, no doubt about it. But of all the men I know who've seen this film, very few can imagine Garofola as the ugly duckling she claims to be.

Otherwise, The Truth About Cats & Dogs is a delightful film which uses a clever animal hook to bind the story together. Abby hosts a radio talk show about pets, and Brian calls when he can't control a dog he's borrowed from the local shelter for a photo shoot. Before he knows it, Abby has talked him into keeping the dog, and he later calls to ask her out, based only on her voice and the advice she gave him.

Too self-conscious of her looks to go through with it, Abby describes herself with Noelle in mind and skips the date. But Brian soon shows up at the studio, and Abby convinces Noelle -- who just happens to be visiting at the time -- to pretend to be her. That begins the sequence of mistaken identities and jealousies which you'd probably be able to predict without too much trouble -- but that doesn't stop Cats & Dogs from entertaining from start to finish.

Particularly excellent scenes include a six-hour-long phone conversation between Abby and Brian, which ranges in topic from tuna salad sandwiches and the merits of pickles to phone sex, and the photo sequence at Brian's apartment, where Noelle first becomes jealous of any attention he directs towards Abby. One of Noelle's sudden admirers, catching her eye in a diner, does a spontaneous bee dance which should have any but the most humorless viewers in stitches.

The movie also features a wonderfully drooling dog, who will give all dog lovers in the audience immediate warm fuzzies.

The script doesn't include many surprises, but that doesn't seem to matter. The only flaw is the Hollywood/glamor world assumption that Garofola couldn't attract men on her own ... a casting fallacy which contradicts the movie's well-meaning message. But ignore that oversight and enjoy the film -- it's best watched at home, curled on the sofa with an animal or two and, if there's room, maybe a loved one as well.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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