First Run Features
Reviewed for FilmFactual.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes & IMDB by Harvey Karten
Director: Christina Thomas, Samantha Wishman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/22/22
Opens: August 12, 2022
A neighbor who is among the most ethical people I know (a vegetarian, of course) always has four dogs in a two-bedroom apartment. And these dogs, forgive me to say, are the ugliest mutts I have ever seen. They compensate for their looks by biting residents waiting for the elevator. They were all rescued from the streets because nobody I know would have bought them much less take even a half hour to dump them into the pound shortly thereafter. Her motive? She says, “I don’t do cute. I don’t do adorable. I rescue dogs that nobody else would consider saving.” I picture her one day a long time from now being comforted by Jesus, Matthew, Luke and John, because up there she will be without a single pet, as St. Peter would not admit these homely hounds past the pearly gates.
Where do all these street dogs come from? Well, when a bitch is in heat, she does not have to be last year’s best in show at Westminster. She will attract male attention by her aroma; never mind if she is missing teeth, and has heartworm, and fleas. And there are no incels among the males who have cojones. If they cannot have their way, they will commit rape and will not take care of the offspring. It’s up to us people to take it from there.
That is where the women of “Free Puppies” come in. Directed by Cristina Thomas and Samantha Wishman in their debut feature length film, the documentary traces the hobbies of several southern women who are doing good by our four-legged pals and through this movie get their fifteen minutes + of fame. They are saving dog lives that might be in the hundreds, picking them up from kill shelters in the South, even freeing them from chains, and transporting them mostly to the North, the Harriet Tubmans of the canine fraternity.
As you might expect, the vast majority are not pure-bred—not that there’s anything wrong with mongrels when you consider that “pedigree” is little more than a human construct. Some are them are cute, depending on what floats your boat, since after all some of us think bull terriers are the cat’s meow (to mix synecdoche and metaphor), while others want beauty contest favorites like Afghans.
How do dogs wind up on the street? As you might expect, some are tossed into the road by people who will not even take the trouble to deliver them to the pound. Maybe they’ve been behavior problems as puppies, and their owners might or might not realize that there is no such thing as an ill-behaved dog: only ill-behaved people (who don’t know how to train their pups). These street dogs are generally not “fixed,” so when the heat’s on, a single canine might produce ten spawn. If they are not rescued from the shelters, they are either euthanized there, at one time via a gas chamber in Georgia and Tennessee but nowadays with lethal injections. Even the no-kill shelters must farm out the unwanted dogs to a kill facility.
A few men in the film are what we, at least in the north, like to call “characters,” including a fellow who claims to have served in Vietnam. The rescue women, especially one who runs a store selling flooring, will take their dogs to a veterinarian who at low cost with neuter and spay them, even imprinting microchips for identity, then return them to the “characters.”
What do we come away with? Unless you are the kind of dog person who likes all breeds, mongrels included, you’re not so likely to say “aw,” at least not after the first one or two “aw’s” because the film is repetitious and does not feature a small number of starring dogs from whom we can learn their backstories. The evening before I saw this film, I was watching my favorite comic, Stephen Colbert, on the June 22nd Late Show. A small number of dogs being offered to the TV audience are shown in a better light than the ones in Georgia and Tennessee because they are seen against a backdrop of New York’s Paramount studios and introduced, one by one, by the comedian and by the actress Emma Thompson. With production values like these, it’s no wonder that Colbert has a 100% record in getting all featured dogs adopted.
All in all ‘Free Puppies!’ is a pleasant enough diversion giving a few heroic women the opportunity to take credit for saving lives.
68 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B