The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Let us now praise Janeane Garofalo. A scene-stealer on cable's Larry Sanders Show and in such films as Reality Bites and Bye Bye Love, Garofalo finally lands a starring role, and it's her bad luck that it's in a perfunctory romantic comedy that fails to capitalize on her talents. Still, her scrappy wit cuts through the conventions of the script by former DJ Audrey Wells. Garofalo plays Abby Barnes, the host of a radio call-in show for pet lovers, The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Abby lives alone, except for her cat. Noelle (Uma Thurman), the leggy model next door, gets all the guys, even if the latest is an abusive creep. So when Brian (Ben Chaplin), a Brit photographer whom Abby helps with a Great Dane problem on the air, cottons to Abby's voice and asks her for a date, the insecure funny girl asks Noelle to fill in. Naturally, both women fall for the hunk.

It's the old Cyrano drill with a sex change: This time the guy is Roxane. Chaplin (no relation to Charlie) fills the role winningly, despite the fact that his character seems cloddishly slow to figure out the deception. Thurman, though a long way from the right stuff she strutted in Pulp Fiction, invests her babe with welcome savvy. And Garofalo tosses self-deprecating insults at Noelle: "You burp, and guys think it's adorable. You puke, and they fight to hold your hair back."

Garofalo is too pert and clever to wallow in low self-esteem. Why couldn't director Michael Lehmann find her a film as astutely comic as his 1989 debut, Heathers? In only a few scenes, notably a hilarious phone-sex bit with Chaplin, is she allowed to let it rip. Memo to Hollywood: Stop talking about getting Garofalo the proper vehicle. Do it.

From The Archives Issue 734: May 16, 1996