Film

Curious Breed: ‘Puppy Love’ – 2021 SFIFF Closing Night Film

(Book of Morgan)

“If everyday somebody comes to your door mistakenly thinking you’re having a yard sale…”
– Jeff Foxworthy, “You Might be a Redneck if…”

I recall how during the late-‘90s/early-2000s, there was a sort trailer… I wouldn’t call it “chic”, but there was definitely a trend in celebrating being poor whyt folkz. The Dubya years made it inexplicably cool to boast that your entire family only had a single car that was likely up on cement blocks. The ear-bleeding bullshit tunes of Kid Rock, Bubba Sparxxx, and countless country stars provided the soundtrack to the administration of a (New England-borne) Texas boy who flunked out of every school, failed at every business and made targeting brown people his central focus.

And to think, we told ourselves it couldn’t possibly get worse than that asshole.

Puppy Love’s redneck minstrelsy is like a flashback to the Kid Rock era. Supposedly based on a true person (who is seen during the movie’s final image and in the outtake that run during the credits), I’m gonna go ahead and guess his real life wasn’t nearly as straightforward a narrative as this flick makes it out to be.

Morgan (Hopper Jack Penn, right) thinks Carla’s (Paz de la Huerta) love is real, even though he’s paying for it. (Book of Morgan)

Morgan (Hopper Jack Penn, son of Sean Penn and Robin Wright) is a nice enough kid, if not too bright. We later learn that that his mother had complications during birth and baby Morgan lost a heartbeat for a short while. Now adult age, he’s clearly on some sort of spectrum, but we’re never clearly told which (my money’s on Asperger’s). He has a job at a fast food joint, but loses it when his meathead brother Danny (Cowboy Cerrone) beats up two co-workers who were bullying Morgan.

Oddly enough, Morgan never seems to want for money. In fact, what little plot there is kicks off when he employs the services of sex worker Carla (Paz de la Huerta), whom Danny paid for once. Morgan has dreams of using his big heart – and seemingly endless supply of money – to cure Carla of her crack addiction so that she may one day regain custody of her son.

Yup, it’s one of those stories.

The best thing one can say about Puppy Love is that the acting isn’t that bad, and that’s saying something for a cast that includes Wayne Newton. I expect nothing short of greatness from Rosanna Arquette as Morgan and Danny’s mother, just as I wasn’t surprised to see Michael Madsen sleepwalk his way through his role as Danny’s best friend. I haven’t seen enough of Penn’s roles to compare him to his talented parents, but I can at least say that I believed he had some sort neurodiversity issue at play.

This is a curious choice to close SF Indiefest’s first all-digital festival. A festival’s opener is meant to invite the viewer into a world away from typical multiplex fare (which this year’s opener certainly did). Similarly, a festival closer is supposed to the viewer not want to leave this world of unique cinema. Whereas all the other films I screened evoked quite a bit of passion, Puppy Love is just… there. It’s clichéd and derivative, reminded one of better iterations they’ve seen before.

Still, I’m glad I took the time virtually attend this year’s festival. It certainly makes of the for the last time I attended. The fact that this year’s lineup as a whole couldn’t stick the landing takes nothing away from the strong collection I did watch.

GRADE:                                                            D+

Puppy Love is scheduled to stream until the 21st of February as part of SF Indie Fest 2021.
The film runs 1 hour 44 minutes.
For information on how to view this and other films, please visit the festival’s official site here.

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