New Years Eve San Francisco Events
Related Articles: Movies, All

Because of Winn-Dixie

A Town Has Hope

Stories about animals rescuing their owners, saving villages, and averting disasters make for compelling journalism, but these stories always seem implausible. Even more implausible is the idea that a dog can somehow heal the collective emotional wounds of a small, impoverished town in Florida. But, even the most jaded cynic would be hard pressed to walk away from Because of Winn-Dixie not feeling a bit refreshed and even desiring the companionship of a dog.

Director Wayne Wang has shown us his gift for crafting small, intimate films that reveal fascinating and quirky characters in Smoke and Blue in the Face. Because of Winn-Dixie is the kind of material that is well suited for Wang's strengths. This film certainly had the potential to be little more than an overwrought, syrupy contrivance. However, Wang gently and eloquently unfolds the complexities and foibles of the characters who occupy this film and it is wonderful to see them come to life and evolve. Far from a contrivance, Because of Winn-Dixie is closer to a revelation.

Jeff Daniels plays the quietly wounded 'Preacher' who is so damaged by the abrupt departure of his wife that he cannot even talk to his young daughter Opal about her mother. In turn, young Opal's (smartly played by newcomer AnnaSophia Robb) pronounced loneliness is most vividly conveyed in the opening scene in which she plays a competitive game of softball with no one but herself.

Wang's characterization of the town of Naomi, Florida is a brilliant expression of the loneliness and sorrow that Preacher and Opal feel. Naomi is a town that reeks of loss and longs for hope. Rundown and forgotten, the small town's church resides inside a convenience mart. There is no real sense of community or connectedness here. The deus ex machina arrival of the disheveled dog dubbed 'Winn-Dixie' (after the supermarket in which Opal finds the dog) by Opal acts as a conduit via which Opal, her father, and the other disconnected citizens of Naomi, Florida find new hope and new connections with each other.

While Because of Winn-Dixie is a film geared towards a younger audience, it tackles some mature themes and ideas. Director Wayne Wang's adroit handling of the story results in a film that will likely resonate for adults. Anyone who has experienced loss or sorrow will likely appreciate the underlying message the film expresses.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5