While micro-budget, plotless indies about sad sack dudes and their lonely lives are old hat at a time when anyone can pick up a camera and shoot, Joe Burke’s “Four Dogs,” a narrative competition LAFF world premiere, stands a cut above as a portrait of two emotionally impotent man-children.
A prolific director of short films for nearly a decade, Burke makes his theatrical feature debut with this easy, breezy comedy about a pair of hapless guys drifting aimlessly through existence. Moving at a leisurely, episodic pace, the film captures the meandering sway of life as an low-on-luck actor in Los Angeles.
Burke funded the film via family and friends and shot it at the San Fernando Valley home of leading man Oliver Cooper (who played a pervy party animal in “Project X”). He’s well-cast as adrift and astray 22-year-old Oliver, who leads a deadbeat life at his chain-smoking aunt’s house, wasting his days taking care of her four yappy dogs, running errands, having empty sex and getting stoned. Also struggling with the acting thing is Oliver’s friend Dan (Dan Bakkedahl of HBO’s “Veep”), twice his age but mentally in the same place. Between the failed auditions and waiting for callbacks, they spend afternoons by the pool smoking weed, talking about giving up and grasping for catharsis.
But Oliver’s slacker routine gets interrupted by the arrival of his aunt’s friend Diane (Kathleen McNearney). She’s beautiful, a little bit older than Oliver, with a good job and head on her shoulders. Oliver soon becomes obsessed with her. Whether he feels envy or love is open to interpretation, because Diane represents everything Oliver is not and everything he hopes to have. Inevitably, his own friendship with Dan gets mixed up too, as they start to question what’s holding them together in the first place.
In a brisk 80 minutes, Burke and co-writer Cooper manage to pack in a lot of character development. Bakkedahl and Cooper have a chummy, believable rapport as best friends who may come from different walks of life but are going in the same direction: nowhere. It takes strong writing to pull off this kind of slight, slice-of-life indie about nothing in particular, but Burke has the chops and talent to do it. Crisp digital photography captures the desolate expanse of Los Angeles, which isn’t so kind to half-talented, would-be actors like Oliver and Dan. And anyone who’s been in their shoes will feel a kinship with this amusing little movie.