Solid performances and a clear-eyed approach distinguish "The Dogwalker," writer-director Jacques Thelemaque's HD-vid shot debut feature. Story about two women in very different but equally desperate straits bonding together in L.A. is too downbeat and modest to tempt much theatrical interest but could find berths in specialized tube sales.

Solid performances and a clear-eyed approach to potentially pat material distinguish “The Dogwalker,” writer-director Jacques Thelemaque’s HD-vid shot debut feature. Story about two women in very different but equally desperate straits bonding together in L.A. is too downbeat and modest to tempt much theatrical interest but could find berths in specialized tube sales.

Fleeing an abusive relationship that’s left her with a battered face, Ellie (helmer’s spouse Diane Gaidry) leaves Buffalo, N.Y., on the first flight out — which lands her in L.A. She’s promptly robbed and reduced to homelessness. Falling asleep in a public park after an aborted, reluctant first stab at prostituting herself, Ellie wakes to meet professional dogwalker Betsy (Pamela Gordon), a gruff, bossy older woman. When Betsy passes out in her van — she has terminal cancer — Ellie tries to help, and for her trouble is offered temporary shelter and a job assisting in the ailing loner’s canine biz.

Reasons for Betsy’s astringent misanthropy are made known only well into pic, revealing that junior and senior women have much in common. Yet despite her increasing frailty Betsy is still fiercely independent, eventually making Ellie move out even as she continues to service former’s wealthy pet-owning clients.

Betsy’s final, hospitalized days coincide with the unwelcome arrival of Ellie’s violent ex-boyfriend, whom her ineffectual new one (Lyn Vaus) is helpless to protect her from. Fade is cautiously optimistic, as Ellie puts into practice the disciplinary confidence she’s had to learn as a dog minder.

Gaidry, whose fragile blonde looks recall Daryl Hannah, does well by a character whose timidity and low self-esteem are deeply ingrained. Vet thesp Gordon resists softening curmudgeon Betsy in a concise, vinegary turn. Though central dynamic is a familiar one — old coot and young lost soul thrown together — perfs, understated script and well-judged direction avoid too-obvious sentimentality or melodrama. Nonetheless, overall story arc is fairly predictable, and deliberate pacing sometimes risks dullness.

Tech aspects are above average by digital indie-feature standards.

The Dogwalker

Production

A Filmmakers Alliance presentation. Produced by Linda L. Miller, Hilary Six. Executive producer, David Diaan. Co-producers, Toni-Ann Parker, Diane Gaidry. Directed, written by Jacques Thelemaque.

Crew

Camera (color, DVCam), Marco Fargnoli; editor, Jeff Orgill; music, Bruce Yauger; production designers, Joe Warson, Robert Lalibertere; art directors, Katie Ellis, Nicole Lee; sound, Monkeyland Audio; additional camera, Toby Birney; assistant director, Scott Butler. Reviewed at Cinequest Film Festival, San Jose, March 3, 2002. Running time: 107 MIN.

Cast

With: Diane Gaidry, Pamela Gordon, Lyn Vaus, Lisa Jane Persky, Alan Gelfant, John Nielsen, Kerry Bishop, Alan DeSatti.
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