Dogfight (1991)
September 21, 2022 12:41 PM - Subscribe

In the fall of 1963, Eddie Birdlace is an 18-year-old Marine Corps volunteer who is about to ship out with three of his buddies for a tour of duty in Vietnam. Planning a massive blowout for their last night in San Francisco, Eddie, his buddies, and a number of other Marines set up a contest they call a "dogfight." Acclaimed performances from Lili Taylor and River Phoenix really elevate this movie.
posted by bearette (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The first time I saw this, as a teen, I was I was shockingly moved. The plot alone is meh (if it were about the plot, but it's really not), but the performances by Taylor and Phoenix, two of the most gifted actors ever, as well as the mood, music, time period, and emotions, just made this movie super special and unique to me. Now in my 40s, I still absolutely love it.

I listened to Lili Taylor interviewed with Marc Maron and she said that Phoenix absolutely hated playing a "jerk" who was in the military and had a hard time with the movie. He does a great job though. And Taylor is amazing. One of my favorite scenes is when she slaps him and yells at him in the bar- it could be so cliche and gimmicky, but you can just see how her romantic nature and hopefulness turn to rage and it's so impactful.

There are some weird things about the story- Lili Taylor is nice-looking, it's weird she would be picked out for being "ugly"; she also is strong- why does she agree to go out with Phoenix after finding out about the contest? Nevertheless, the emotions are so resonate and the performances so amazing, that those things essentially don't bother me at all.
posted by bearette at 12:47 PM on September 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

Yeah, it's weird that she's the "homely" girl when I came out of this movie with a big crush on her.

I chalked that up to "unconventionally pretty" being the closest Hollywood was willing to get to "ugly."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:14 PM on September 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

Yeah, totally. I kind of wish they had not done that "ugliest girl" contest thing, and instead had him manipulate/lie/be mean to her in a different way. Perhaps making of of her with his friends for being unconventional/kind of nerdy or lying to manipulate her in another way, etc. It's hard to fathom agreeing to a date with a guy who purposely chose you for being ugly enough to win a contest.

I suppose the idea of a guy falling in love/like with a woman who is genuinely considered "ugly" by society's standards could be an interesting story, but it's not really the one told here, as her looks aren't a topic after the initial contest, and it's clear that while she's not noticed for her looks, she's also not "ugly" by conventional standards.

That beiing said, I forgot about all of these things after getting absorbed into the rest of the movie, the emotional connection that plays out between them, the ambience, the music...
posted by bearette at 3:06 PM on September 21, 2022

I always took Taylor's appearance as the biggest sign that Phoenix' character was truly decent. I don't think he can fathom a girl he likes in any way as being ugly, and there's a connection between them from the beginning.
posted by jkosmicki at 1:53 PM on September 23, 2022

Dogfight was a good watch tonight. I agree, the performances from Lili Taylor and River Phoenix are the highlights of the movie. bearette is correct that the plot is meh. And the end was disappointing. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough charactization for me either, at least with Eddie. Rose was well fleshed out, but I'm still not sure about Eddie. Why was he so wound up? I did like the supporting characters and performances. Lots of faces from the early 90s.
posted by Stuka at 9:52 PM on November 3, 2022

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