by Tony Medley
I was touched before
the movie started. The screening was at the venerable, beautiful Crest
Theater in Westwood. As usual, I got there early and watched the arrivals.
It was an uplifting treat to see all the children, most from around ages 3
to 8, enter the theater. They had big, anticipatory smiles on their faces
and looked around the theater like it was their first time, running to
their seats, going over to touch the beautiful murals of Los Angeles that
adorn the walls. I was envious of their wide-eyed, innocent anticipation
of a great treat. What a joy it would be to be able to generate such
enthusiasm for a movie! Their excitement was electric.
This is not a sad
movie, but there were teary eyes all around, inlcuding mine, because it’s so touching.
India Opal Buloni (nine year old Annasophia Robb, making her film debut)
has moved with her single father, Preacher (Jeff Daniels), to Naomi
Florida to start a Baptist congregation. She’s lonely because her mother
has abandoned the family and she doesn’t know why. She feels an emptiness
and is hungry to fill it but none of the other children in the small town
want to befriend her. On a trip to the market, an unruly dog (a Picardy
shepherd) messes up the place and Opal comes to his rescue by claiming him
as her own, naming him Winn-Dixie, after the name of the store. When she
brings him home Preacher tells her she can’t keep him and the manager of
their trailer park where they live orders them to get rid of the dog
That’s just the setup
for a story that can’t help but touch your heartstrings. The dog is cute
and loveable, but it’s Opal around whom the entire movie revolves.
Expertly directed by Wayne Wang from a script by Joan Singleton, adapted
from a popular, award-winning novel of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, young Opal brings the small town
together with her ingenuous personality. Dog and girl are siblings under
the skin as the dog is homeless and Opal is horribly lonely. It’s love at
Every character in
the movie seems alone. Otis (musician Dave Matthews, making his first
appearance in a major motion picture), who gives Opal a job so she can get
a collar for Winn-Dixie, is a loner with a past; Gloria Dump (Cicely
Tyson) is a blind recluse that the other children think is a witch; Miss
Franny (Eva Marie Saint), the librarian, seems all alone with her books.
Opal brings them all together.
The only thing I
didn’t like about this film is that the police are made to be the bad
guys. There’s one policeman in the picture and he’s a real heavy, but
there’s another segment, in a story told by Otis that pictures the police
in a bad light. I deplore painting the police, who are supposed to be
protecting us, as people to be loathed and feared to impressionable
Everything else about
this movie is terrific. Matthews does a surprisingly good job, as does
Tyson, which is not so surprising. Opal’s scenes with Gloria are as
touching as her scenes with Winn-Dixie. The nine year old Robb (now ten)
was picked after a nationwide search. With no film experience, she is a
remarkable performer. She is in virtually every scene and carries the
movie. Everyone else is supporting her.
It was a treat to see
Eva Marie Saint again. Winner of the Academy Award in her first movie, “On
The Waterfront” (1954), she was one of the memorable actresses of the
‘50s. I still remember her hanging off Mt. Rushmore as Cary Grant reaches
down to try to save her in “North by Northwest” (1959). She still looks
like the same gracious, loveable woman, 50 years later!
wonderful movie is probably doomed to suffer the same fate as last year’s
“The Notebook,” which was released so early in the year it was forgotten
when awards time came around. Even though this is a children’s movie I
February 14, 2005