The Truth About Cats & Dogs (Michael Lehmann)

Rating: *** (out of ****)

Okay, before we even start to consider her new movie, let's all learn how to spell Janeane Garofalo's name. Her first name is Janejane with the second 'j' omitted (though it seems to be pronounced much like Janine), and her last name follows the vowel pattern a-o-a-o. It's important to get this right, I think, because Garofalo is one of the best (and, not coincidentally, one of the least compromising) comic actors around, capable of making a bit of lightweight fluff like The Truth About Cats & Dogs not merely watchable but downright compelling; because of her presence, there were actually moments in the course of this eminently predictable retread-avec-gender-switch rendition of Cyrano de Bergerac during which I found myself wondering whether everything might not turn out okay in the end. It does, of course -- this is a studio-financed romantic comedy, after all -- but it's still to Garofalo's credit that she managed to instill an occasional doubt despite everything I know both about the genre and about the minds of movie executives. She is not only remarkably funny in Cats & Dogs, but deeply and believably human; there's a moment toward the end of the film, a moment in which she does nothing but stand quietly, waiting for someone to say something, that nearly broke my heart. She's far too talented for a movie like this; Uma Thurman and Ben Chaplin are quite good, playing the sort of superficial two-quirks-and-a-mannerism stereotypes on which most movies thrive, but Garofalo makes their thoroughly competent work look a bit embarrassing by comparison. Her evident anger and frustation nearly transform Cats & Dogs into a movie that it doesn't remotely want to be: a movie that I've been waiting to see for some time, one that deals honestly and plainly with the horrific standards of physical beauty to which women are required to conform by Western cultures. It doesn't make it -- there are too many snappy one-liners (many admittedly quite funny) and montages set to pop songs, and, frankly, Garofalo is far too attractive for her part, though by Hollywood standards she's plain enough that we can easily suspend our disbelief -- but I'd recommend the film overall on the strength of this one performance. And that's something I almost never do.