- Because of Winn-Dixie (2005) movie review: Wayne Wang’s whimsical Girl and Her Dog comedy fantasy offers plenty of by-the-book sentimentality but little genuine feeling.
- On the positive side, the performances of veteran Oscar winner Eva Marie Saint and The Purple Rose of Cairo leading man Jeff Daniels are two highlights. Another plus: The titular character is awful cute.
Because of Winn-Dixie movie review: Big-screen adaptation features plenty of sentiment but few touching moments
A sweet, pretty, blond ten-year-old girl with no friends. A kindly preacher, whose inner life has turned into a void following the departure of his wife seven years earlier. An elderly librarian who believes that books are reliable weapons against bears. A lonely blind woman who may or may not be a witch. A taciturn ex-con with a talent for playing the guitar to the animals in his pet store. These are the main characters found in a small Southern American town circa nowadays – or anywhere in time, really – that form the human core of Because of Winn-Dixie.
Yet all those two-legged small-town folks play second fiddle to the real star of Wayne Wang’s movie version of Kate DiCamillo’s 2000 novel: Winn-Dixie himself, a big, scruffy, slobbering mutt. (In all fairness, Winn-Dixie is actually a Berger Picard.)
But Winn-Dixie? What kind of weird dog name is that?
Well, it’s an homage to the – now financially troubled – chain of grocery stores that pepper the American South, for that was where the dog was first spotted by the pretty and friendless blond girl, Opal (AnnaSophia Robb).
Winn-Dixie, by the way, is a dog (mostly played by two dogs, Lyco and Scott) that is not only bulky, dirty, and smart, but also gifted with the human/ape ability to smile (with the help of some digital tampering.)
Now, all of the above can be woven into a tale of Southern Gothic whimsy, or it can be made into a gooey, undercooked Southern pecan pie. Unfortunately, despite several quirky bits, some good acting, and a couple of touching moments, Because of Winn-Dixie comes across as a conventional rendering of an unusual and potentially edifying story about tolerance and compassion.
Wayne Wang disappointment
Director Wayne Wang takes most of the blame for the film’s failure, for he is either unable – many of the camera set-ups are surprisingly amateurish – or unwilling to keep its sweetness level in check.
To the contrary, Wang, abetted by adapter Joan Singleton, seems to relish the sugar and syrup so much that he keeps adding every artificial sweetener he can think of. Worse yet, he elicits a thoroughly artificial performance out of newcomer AnnaSophia Robb, a personable young girl who is made to act like Shirley Temple minus the curls and the tap-dancing.
Coming from Wang, the man who managed to create pathos out of perilously saccharine material like The Joy Luck Club (1993), that sort of emotionally manipulative approach is a major letdown.
Veteran Oscar winner Eva Marie Saint + Jeff Daniels are bright spots
Even so, Because of Winn-Dixie does have its good points.
Although she’s not given much to do as the bear-fighting librarian who befriends Opal, Academy Award-winning veteran Eva Marie Saint (Best Supporting Actress for On the Waterfront, 1954) puts her more than half a century of film experience to good use.
A more “recent” veteran, Jeff Daniels (Terms of Endearment, The Purple Rose of Cairo), displays the appropriate emotional distance as Opal’s father, a man who preaches love and kindness while being unable to recognize his own feelings – or lack thereof.
Moreover, Because of Winn-Dixie offers one genuinely touching sequence. That’s when birds and mammals are allowed to walk freely at the local pet store while listening to some guitar-playing by pop singer Dave Matthews, capably cast as the store manager with a past.
Oh, there’s also that cute, unwashed dog with the Colgate smile. But a whimsical To Kill a Mockingbird this ain’t.
Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)
Director: Wayne Wang.
Screenplay: Joan Singleton.
From Kate DiCamillo’s 2000 novel.
Cast: AnnaSophia Robb. Jeff Daniels. Cicely Tyson. Dave Matthews. Eva Marie Saint. Nick Price. Elle Fanning. Luke Benward. Courtney Jines.
“Because of Winn-Dixie Movie (2005) Review” endnotes
Because of Winn-Dixie movie reviewed at the Santa Barbara Film Festival (website).
“Winn-Dixie” and AnnaSophia Robb Because of Winn-Dixie movie image: 20th Century Fox.
“Because of Winn-Dixie Movie: Sentimental Tale Lacks Genuine Feeling” last updated in September 2021.