No Puppies Were Harmed Here…

17th Dallas International Film Festival

If you are an animal lover looking for a heart-warming story of a kindred spirit relationship between man and dog, keep on looking. You will not; repeat, will not find that storyline in this film. This in not that story; this is something completely different. Puppy Love takes you to another place.

Puppy Love is a dark and intriguing drama about a mentally challenged man named Morgan (Hopper Penn). Morgan tells his life story to a group of people sitting in a hot tub while drinking a 2-liter Coca-Cola. He talks about his relationship with a homeless, drug addicted sex worker named Carla (Paz de la Huerta). Their response is curios, astonished and visceral as his adventures are revealed. It is a story that cannot be true; this does not happen to real people. However…

Morgan’s is based on the true-life experience of the Director’s (Michael Maxxis) real life cousin. Morgan is quixotic and interesting. His affinity for cola is rooted in a firmly held belief  in and allergy to water. His family is typical in their reaction and treatment of him. It edges between tough love and abuse. But, like all families, they bond and defend one another when needed.

The film takes the barrier that exists between reality and film fantasy and nukes it. The wall is utterly decimated, and the audience must hold on tight so not to get lost in the gritty reality the story creates. His relationship with Carla is challenging and at times difficult to watch. As storyline builds to its nontraditional crescendo, you cannot look away. It is bad in a good way.

The film features a cast of 1st timer that did not look that way. I saw this film during the 2021 Dallas Independent Film Weekend Festival. During the Q&A following the viewing; the Director told us that many of the people in the film were cast on the day of principal photography and had now earlier film experience. They were real people portraying their real lives. He said the film felt like a documentary in some respects as is was telling the real stories of the people involved.

Puppy Love feel like what happens with a home movie (better quality); a documentary and a reality show about what really happened to Forest Gump had a baby and then put that baby up for adoption by a crack head. I enjoyed this movie. Critics tend to evaluate film on technical merits and personal preference too often. I can deeply appreciate those willing to tells the stories that my on relate to a small audience. As it, turns out, much to the critics’ dismay, that small audience existed everywhere. This is a story no one ever thought should be told. I am not counted among them.

No one really tells their family story (for obvious reasons). Puppy Love is gritty, cathartic and therapeutic all at once. We are taken to a place we seldom want to go in film, beyond the superficial and into the depth of the human soul. It does not make light of the reality of its principal characters; nor paint any unrealistic view or the future. You root for no one in this film be because there are no winners; just people. No magic dust here.

15th Dallas International Film Festival