Eric D. Snider

Bark

It is said that if you think you're crazy, you're probably not. People who actually are insane don't usually realize it. "Bark" adheres strikingly well to this theorem. It is good when it allows its characters to be themselves, and bad when it demonstrates too much awareness of its own lunacy.

There is much lunacy to be aware of, too. First and foremost is Lucy (Heather Morgan, who also scripted), a fairly ordinary woman who has now stopped talking and started barking. In fact, her behavior becomes more and more dog-like every day, complete with sniffing people and growling at strangers.

Her devoted husband, Peter (Lee Tergesen), has no idea what to do. First he tries to snap her out of it and convince her to talk. Then he seeks advice from his veterinarian (he has a real dog, too), whose name is Darla (Lisa Kudrow). Then he corners a reluctant psychiatrist, Malcolm (Vincent D'Onofrio), and asks for counsel. Finally, with nothing else to do, he has Lucy committed to a mental hospital.

It is slowly revealed, primarily through flashbacks, that Lucy found life too stressful and disorganized and preferred life as a dog. Dogs, after all, are unconditionally loved and cared for, and their lives are the very picture of simplicity. Through all this, the film, directed by Kasia Adamik (who heretofore has been only a storyboard artist), demonstrates a certain tenderness. Adamik does an admirable job drawing pathos from what is truly a ridiculous situation.

A few scenes stand out as being especially funny, and all of them succeed because they show the people just being people, not caricatures. One is with Lucy's alcoholic father, insane mother and bitter sister -- an absurd romp of dysfunction. Another is between Darla and Peter's best friend Sam (Hank Azaria), flirting with each other and eventually kissing in Peter's kitchen.

But then there are amusing touches that are taken too far, such as Malcolm's desire to be a harp player, and a running joke about the size of Darla's mouth. One needn't beat the wackiness quite so hard. It is better to be sublime than to be a sledgehammer.

Lee Tergesen is good in a difficult role, and Heather Morgan imitates the behavior of a dog surprisingly well. Lisa Kudrow, lovably daft as always, blathers on in an endearing manner.

Alas, they are all working in a 90-minute film that really only has a 20-minute plot -- and yet, even when stretched out, it still is unsatisfactorily resolved. Adamik shows promise, but "Bark" is not everything it could be.

Grade: C+

Rated R, some harsh profanity, some sexuality, non-sexual partial nudity

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