“You don’t really connect with people very well.” That’s what people tell Megan Leavey (Kate Mara), the title character of a new film from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Luckily she does bond with dogs and that gift saves not only her life but also the lives of many others.
When we first meet Leavey she is a withdrawn young woman, aimless, grieving the loss of her best friend. Living in Valley Cottage, New York with her divorced mother (Edie Falco) and the man who broke up her parent’s marriage, she looks to extricate herself from the drudgery of dead end jobs by enlisting in the Marines. When asked why she signed up she replies, bluntly, “To get the BLEEP away from my life.”
She finds her calling after an embarrassing incident. Caught urinating in public after a night of drinking she is assigned the worst job on base, cleaning out the dog kennels of the K9 bomb-sniffing unit. There she meets Rex (Varco), a violent and aggressive military working dog so powerful he shattered the hand of his former handler with one bite.
With the guidance of the gruff Gunnery Sergeant Massey (Common) and dog trainer Andrew Dean (Tom Felton), Leavey and Rex become devoted to one another and the job. “People count on us and if we do it wrong people die,” she says, “so we gotta do it right.” Spread out over more than 100 missions their teamwork saves thousands of lives but on the second of two deployments in Iraq an Improvised Explosive Device wounds both. Leavey finds the return to civilian life difficult, doubly so when Rex is declared unadoptable. “I’m just trying to give a war hero a home for the last few years of his life,” she says.
Based-on-a-real-life story “Megan Leavey” is a by-the-book but effective bit of storytelling. Guaranteed to tug at animal lover’s heartstrings it’s a love story between woman and dog. “I’d thank him for trying to teach me what love is.” It’s also a tribute to the largely ignored but long, honourable role of dogs in the military.
Cowperthwaite stages several tense bomb sniffing scenes and the troubled family sequences work well but the film is at its best when it explores the loving connection Leavey has with Rex. It’s “Benji” with bombs or “Lieutenant Lassie,” a movie that hinges on the audience buying into the camaraderie between dog and trainer.
Mara is a mix of vulnerability and steel will, a woman who finds meaning in the military and her relationship with Rex, only to see it all jeopardized following her injury.
“Megan Leavey” is a compassionate film that may be a bit too straightforward in its telling but nonetheless is a powerful example of the power of companionship—whether between people or people and animals—to heal the human heart.
Richard sits in with Marcia McMillan to have a look at the the rollercoaster action of “Jason Bourne,” the heartwarming (and slightly raunchy) comedy of “Bad Moms,” “Cafe Society’s” period piece humour and the online intrigue of “Nerve.”
From the comedy minds who gave us “The Hangover” comes another trio. This time it’s less a Wolf Pack than it is a Coffee Klatch of moms fed up with the burden of having to be perfect. It has its raunchy moments—thanks to Kathryn Hahn’s spirited performance—but by and large “Bad Moms” might better be titled “Tired Moms.
Amy (Mila Kunis) is a thirty-two-year-old frazzled mom struggling to keep up with her family life and work. She has two kids, the overachieving Jane (Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) and a husband (David Walton) “who sometimes feels like a third child.”
“I’m doing the best I can,” she sighs. “That makes it sadder,” replies Jane.
When an epiphany turns her from stressed mother to bad mom, she sleeps in, lets her kids make their own breakfast and drinks loads of wine with two other exhausted mothers, Carla (Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell). Having tossed the shackles of the daily grind of motherhood aside, Amy is reborn, but not everyone is pleased. Her newfound freedom puts her in the crosshairs of the fascistic PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate).
The mothers in “Bad Moms” aren’t bad moms, they’re simply fed up with trying to live up to the expectations. The movie has laughs, mostly courtesy of Hahn’s laser sharp delivery of lines like, “I feel like everything that comes out of your mouth is a cry for help,” but mostly this is a manifesto for taking a breath and giving both yourself and your kids a chance to enjoy their childhoods. As Amy becomes the Norma Rae of mothers, she discovers taking a step away from what she thought she should do as a mom is the best way to discover the joy of parenthood.
It’s a story of the power of friendship and despite the promise of raunch “Bad Moms” is filled with gooey warmth. The set up is formulaic—you know the bond between children or parents will only grow and get stronger by the time the end credits roll—but despite the obvious story, and some obvious plot holes, the movie succeeds because underneath it all it’s not just about them talking about their kids, their exhaustion or how to best to dress for a night out. It’s about taking control of their lives, standing up to injustice and, yes, getting a date with the handsome widowed dad (Jay Hernandez) who drops his kid off at the playground everyday.