SXSW 2019 – Review: WELL GROOMED Is A Stylish And Beautiful Doc

well groomed beach
Photo Courtesy of Cattle Rat Productions. Kobe, Cat Opson’s poodle, stands on the beach in California .

Well Groomed is a new documentary directed by Rebecca Stern, adapted from her 2017 short of the same name. The film tells the story of a group of creative dog groomers who travel on the competitive circuit, using their animals as a unique and beautiful form of creative expression. It made its world debut at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

The concept of this movie is quite interesting. Although most people will have seen a dog with a wacky haircut on Facebook, fewer people will have seen one in real life, so the fact that there is a competitive circuit focused exclusively on creative grooming is pretty mind-blowing. The film falls in the same realm as other unorthodox competition documentaries like Chicken People, in that it’s subject is so unique that it automatically has a level of interest attached to it.

Some people may wonder whether or not competitive grooming is ethical, as the dogs don’t technically have a say in the matter, but the movie does have a segment in which it addresses this. There is only one scene in the film which seems potentially questionable, in which one of the subjects talks down at their dog because they did not win the competition.

well groomed nicole
Photo Courtesy of Cattle Rat Productions. Nicole Beckman and her poodle, Ira, practice grooming before a big show

The subject of the movie that is most well-developed is Adriane. She is a very interesting subject, and the film seems to recognize this because her storyline gets a significant majority of the screen time. She is the underdog story of the movie — a person who has the potential to conquer the existing champion but isn’t an absolute lock. Because of this, her portions are the most compelling of the film.

The other subjects, Cat, Nicole, and Angela, are still interesting, but they are not as well-developed through the movie as Adriane. Since Adriane does get most of the runtime, the other subjects aren’t really given enough time to be as fully developed as her. One issue is that Cat becomes irrelevant in the latter half, as she slips out of the story.

well groomed adriane
Photo Courtesy of Cattle Rat Productions. Adriane Pope and her poodles become Alice in Wonderland for an afternoon in Conway, South Carolina.

The film’s biggest success is definitely on the visual front. Everything about the look of the movie is absolutely beautiful. Some of the designs on the dogs are truly awe-inspiring. The level of creativity and work that goes into their craft is truly impressive. Because the art which the subjects are creating is so beautiful to look at, the film as a whole is beautiful to look at too.

On a technical level, the movie is quite impressive as well. The cinematography and editing are both amazing. The cinematography matches the majesty of the groomers’ work. Additionally, the film’s score is excellent, doing a great job of building the excitement in the movie. This is particularly important in the competition scenes.

Overall, Well Groomed was a surprisingly great documentary. There isn’t a total balance between the film’s subjects, but even as a non-animal lover, it is a compelling watch.

Well Groomed is now playing at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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