MdFF Picks: ‘Well Groomed,’ a blissed-out doc about neon-dyed dogs and the people who love them

Creative grooming, wherein dog groomers take dogs (poodles, huskies, bichon frisés mostly), grow their fur out for awhile, cut it into shapes and designs, dye it wild colors, and turn the dog into something else—a whole other animal, an entire seascape with waves and dolphins across its side, a dog that now looks like Buzz Lightyear, and so on—is the subject of “Well Groomed.”

“The dog didn’t look like a dog anymore, it looked a ram,” aspiring creative groomer Nicole Beckman declares at one point, totally in awe of a dog whose fur is differing shades of brown and the hair around its head dyed light yellow and cut to look like thick, curling horns. It does totally look like a ram.

“Well Groomed” hangs around with Beckman, a groomer just getting into the field whose whole demeanor is either tragic or pathetic depending on your patience, and three other equally fascinating groomers: Adriane Pope, a creative grooming samurai sculpting a Johnny Depp in “Alice In Wonderland” Mad Hatter face on her dog’s back leg and gaining the respect of everybody; Angela Kumpe, a top-tier groomer with a brilliant side hustle pitching creative grooming and related accessories (including “butt bling”) out of her shop in Arkansas; and Cat Opson, on the come-up and developing a “sequel” to her “Jurassic Bark” dog (“Jurassic Bark World”) and beset by having to move (her landlord kicked her out, likely because of all the dog grooming) the same week as a crucial competition.

If there is ever a fictional version of “Well-Groomed,” Amy Poehler should play all four of the doc’s stars because only she has the range to locate their singular drive, meditative talents, and weird seething “bless your heart” rage right under the surface. All of which is to say that the movie is on these folks’ sides and isn’t laughing at them. It isn’t really laughing with them either, which is quite a feat when say, Beckman stands before a crowd, dressed like a farmer, her dog with a collage of farm animals groomed into the side of it, and sings The Zac Brown Band’s ‘Chicken Fried,’ reading the lyrics off a piece of paper, her hands vibrating she’s so nervous.

Imagine an episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” mixed with the sleepy deadpan of early Errol Morris—this documentary is weird and blissed-out. A sunbaked color palette attuned to the bursts of bright in everyday life matches the neons of the dog dye and Dan Deacon’s persistent score is typically synthy, though it stirs, bubbles, and only occasionally builds, like an orchestra tuning up. Director Rebecca Stern luxuriates in the lack of tension even among the creative grooming competitions and the documentary’s approach is unhurried. The pace of the movie fits the pace of a group of people who spend a lot of time alone, coming up with bonkers ideas for what to stick on the side of a dog, snipping, shaving, dyeing, turning their poodle into say, a reclining Snoopy?

“Well Groomed” is screening on Saturday, May 11 at 2:15 p.m. at Parkway 1 and on Sunday, May 12 at 2:15 p.m. at Falvey Hall at MICA Brown Center. For more information on MdFF go here.

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